The Hong Kong government revoked sanctions against the Philippines on Wednesday after both sides reached consensus over a diplomatic row that has simmered since eight people from Hong Kong died after a tour bus was hijacked in Manila in 2010.
The agreement was reached by survivors, victims' family members and officials. "The Philippine Government expresses its most sorrowful regret and profound sympathy, and extends its most sincere condolences for the pain and suffering of the victims and their families," a joint statement by the Hong Kong and Philippine governments read.
The statement came a day after Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada arrived in Hong Kong seeking to apologise to the families of the eight victims and the 13 survivors.
The attempt to free hostages on the tour bus ended tragically after the vehicle had been hijacked by a disgruntled former policeman.
Estrada dismissed views that the "sorrowful regret and profound sympathy" expressed in the statement did not amount to a true apology, arguing that the remark was "the same" as saying sorry.
He stressed that the statement reflected the views of his city, the national government and people of the Philippines, in response to criticism over a lack of contrition by Manila.
The brother of a Hong Kong tour guide killed in the incident, Tse Chi-kin, said it was not the ideal response he expected, but it was time to bring the matter to a close after three years and eight months.
Philippine Cabinet Secretary Jose Almendras said letters of apology had been sent by the national police chief in the Philippines. It took so long to reach consensus, as they were dealing with several aggrieved parties with different "postures and conventions".
Almendras stressed that Philippine President Benigno Aquino had played "a very important role in keeping the Filipino position on an even keel" and that the president had told him the "first thing we need to do is something for the families".
Almendras did not confirm whether the compensation package was HK$20 million ($2.57 million) as previously reported by Filipino media, adding that he preferred not to view the payments as compensation but rather as "an act of unity".
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying told the media after meeting Estrada on Tuesday: "With the final resolution of the incident, I sincerely hope the deceased may rest in peace and the injured and their families can move on with courage and strength. I also believe the relations between the peoples of Hong Kong and the Philippines will start a new chapter."
Leung announced that a "black" outbound travel alert against the Philippines, in place since February as part of a package of sanctions, will revert to "amber" status, the level of alert before the hostage incident, while visa-free entry for Filipino officials has been reinstated.
He said the two sides had been working tirelessly for six months toward a resolution, but added there had been "twists and turns".