[The author of this post is a voluntary editor for the news site inmediahk.net, which is quoted multiple times in this report.]
Nine journalists from three media outlets in Hong Kong were kicked out from the venue of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Bali on October 6, 2013 after they questioned the Philippines president over the mishandling of the 2010 hostage tragedy which resulted in the death of eight Hong Kong tourists.
The journalists asked President Benigno Aquino III if he would meet Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and apologize to the families of the victims. The Indonesian Communications Ministry official in charge of the media center for the APEC summit accused the reporters for “protesting” as they did not “speak normally”. Aquino’s communications secretary said the reporters had crossed an ethical boundary by aggressively questioning the president.
On the other hand, Chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalist Association Sham Yee-lan stressed that “it is a journalist's job to ask questions of public concern”, and that the barring of reporters for asking critical questions is an infringement of press freedom.
To make their position clear, the Journalist Association organized a protest in front of the Indonesian and Philippines consulates on October 8. Protestors chanted slogans, such as “I am asking, not screaming, OK?”; “We throw questions, not bombs”; “It is a journalist's job to ask”; and “Support journalists, shame on APEC”.
Chloe Lai, a former reporter and a current editor for citizen media platform inmediahk.net, attended the protest and explained in her commentary that the APEC's intention in evicting the journalists was to save face:
To save face for the president, they stopped the journalists from doing hard-hitting reporting and infringed on press freedom.
The journalists raised the questions to Aquino III in the corridor of the hotel, where he was surrounded by a large number of security guards. The hotel security staff barred the reporters from getting near. Under such circumstances, the reporters had to raise their voices to catch his attention. Such a move is necessary to fulfill the job of a journalist, and the accusation that “screaming the question is rude” is just to defend the nobleness of the president.
Lai also pointed out that both the Indonesian and Philippines government are typical examples of the Asian authoritative government model:
Many countries in Asia are authoritative in nature, with corrupt governments and unprotected human rights. In these countries, the authorities expect journalists to serve them rather than monitor them, and in some cases journalists receive threats on their lives for their reports. Last week in Indonesia, a reporter was slapped in public by a judge because she raised a question concerning his involvement in a corruption case. Two months ago in the Philippines, three reporters were attacked with shot guns within two days. In Reporters Without Border's 2013 Press Freedom Index, among the 179 countries, the Philippines is ranked number 149 and Indonesia ranked 139.
As the APEC summit will be hosted in Hong Kong next year, Lai anticipated that Hong Kong police will fall in line with the heavy-handed style of APEC to repress protesters and restrict press freedom.
Tension mounted further when Aquino III refused to apologize to victims of the 2010 Manila hostage incident in his meeting with HK Chief Executive Leung Chung-ying on October 8 in Bali. On August 23 2010, a dismissed Philippine National Police officer hijacked a tourist bus carrying 21 Hong Kong tourists and 4 Filipinos in demand of a fair hearing on his dismissal. Negotiations broke down and the police arrested the hijacker's brother and thus incited him to open fire inside the bus and killed 8.
Some netizens turned their anger towards Chief Executive Leung. For example, on blog-hosting platform VJmedia, commenter “On Time Production” wrote:
Aquino said the [Philippine] government had done nothing wrong. How can you, CY Leung, take that as an answer and stop questioning?
The reason why Aquino refused to apologize is simple: because the government had done nothing wrong, why apologize? […] The gunman took all the blame.
An answer like that has outraged all of Hong Kong's people. Two years ago, even the Philippines’ official report pointed out a huge number of mistakes committed by a number of government personnels [who handed the hostage incident], including the [Manila] city mayor, the police chief and the special forces. How can Aquino play this trick on the Hong Kong people by saying that the government had done nothing wrong? As Hong Kong's chief executive, what is your response, CY Leung? Did you use the Philippines’ report to rebuke him? We did not see you do so.
[…] You didn't do your homework before the meeting. When the Philippines president played tricks on you and on the Hong Kong people, you did not stand up. Had you read the investigation report, you would know who should be responsible for the tragedy and you could rebuke Aquino's shameless talk. But you did not do this simple homework. You have shown no courage to defend the interests of the Hong Kong people.
To express their anger, some netizens set up a Facebook page calling on people in Hong Kong to boycott exports from the Philippines, including fruits and domestic workers. Political group People's Power [zh] even urged the government to impose visa restriction on Filipinos. Even though the suggestion is very unlikely to be implemented, the chief executive will face a round of public scrutiny for his apparent weakness in pursuing justice for the victims of the Manila hostage incident.