The debacle at the Quirino grandstand last Monday can only be blamed on the government and its agencies, particularly the police.
In a desperate bid to right what he perceived to be the wrongs done to him, Rolando Mendoza hijacked a tourist bus containing 25 people, mostly Chinese nationals from Hong Kong.
The hostage taker, Rolando Mendoza, was a bemedalled former police officer (senior inspector) who was named one of the country’s top policemen decades ago by Jaycees International.
His demand was for a Final Decision on his case at the Ombudsman (OMB- P-A-08—0670-H). He also gave the details of his other cases and file folder numbers. One can conclude that Mr. Mendoza felt that he was truly innocent and that the world should read his case and judge for themselves the merits of the case. He also demanded to be re-instated with full benefits.
Mendoza’s brother, also a policeman, said that in his brother’s case, there was no hearing, no complainant and no due process.This is typical in government service.
Policemen extorting the public is an everyday occurrence — from extorting motorists for alleged traffic violations to extorting drug users and traffickers. Policemen have 1001 ways to extract money from the public, mostly from criminal elements like petty thieves, gambling and drug lords.
Unfortunately for Senior Inspector Mendoza and four of his colleagues, their alleged victim, a Mr. Kalaw, filed charges against them in 2008. The charge was for robbery and extortion amounting to P20,000.00 or some US $ 416.00
Yet, after filing charges, Mr. Kalaw failed to appear at the Fiscal’s office and at the Internal Affairs office. According to newspaper reports, in August 2008, the prosecutors dismissed the case for failure of complainant to appear. On Oct. 17, 2008, the Internal Affairs recommended the dismissal of the administrative case against Mendoza et al.
Yet in January this year, the Ombudsman found Mendoza and four other police officers guilty of grave misconduct for extorting 20,000 pesos from a certain Mr. Kalaw. The officers were dismissed from service, their benefits to be withheld from them and they were banned from re-entering government service.
In the first place, who charged them at the Ombudsman? Did the Ombudsman charged them motu propio? When did they start doing that?
Wow, for a “grave misconduct” of extorting 20,000 pesos, five police officers were fired from service yet government officers extorting millions of dollars go scott-free. Amazing!
Many people believe that the present Ombudsman (or Ombudsperson) is a very close friend of former Pres. Arroyo and her husband. And many people assert that she won’t lift a finger to prosecute the former First Couple or their friends. Yet five policemen are prosecuted on charges already dismissed by the Prosecutor’s Office and the Internal Affairs Services.
In the Senate hearings, there were so many allegations of wrong doings by government officials worth millions of dollars. The Ombudsman had done nothing about them despite Senate recommendations to prosecute. Yet for US $ 416.00, five policemen were dismissed from their jobs.
After rounds of negotiations, Mendoza released a total of 10 hostages including 2 photographers who volunteered to replace the first six released hostages.
The government’s bad intention was shown by its arrest of Mendoza’s brother. The brother, who helped in the negotiations, was forcefully arrested on national TV. He was pinned down the pavement, handcuffed and taken away in a police car. It was a warrant-less arrest. And as witnessed by everyone watching the event on TV, his Miranda rights were not read to him.
The authorities claimed he was an “instigator”. They claimed that the brother told Mendoza, through the phone, not to believe in the letter of the Ombudsman to him.
A letter from the Ombudsman was delivered to Mendoza by Manila Vice Mayor and former actor Isko Moreno. Moreno talked to the media but refused to reveal the contents of the letter, saying only that it was duly stamped and bar-coded, i.e., it is an “official document”.
The police ignored the threats of Mendoza to shoot the hostages if the policemen wouldn’t release his brother and if the SWAT wouldn’t stay away from the bus.
Mendoza and his brother, both policemen themselves, instinctively knew the insincerity of the negotiators and the police authorities.
MEASLY DEMAND VS LIVES OF HOSTAGES
The lives of 15 hostages are surely much greater than the demand for review of Mendoza’s case and eventual reinstatement if proven meritorious.
Mendoza was not asking for millions of dollars and be flown outside the country. His demands could have been easily granted.
Mendoza belonged to the Manila Police Department and the police surrounding him, including the so-called Ground Commander, are from the same department. It was practically an internal affair among Manila police. It would have been such an easy matter if Mendoza’s superiors merely made a document immediately reinstating Mendoza. That document, together with the letter of the Ombudsman to review his case, would have solved the problem.
After Mendoza surrenders, then the police could book him with hostage-taking charges.
It was that simple.
If I were the Manila Mayor, who was a former police general and presumably very credible in the eyes of Mendoza, I would have guaranteed Mendoza that there would be a new hearing at the Ombudsman and that he would be given some of the city’s best lawyers. And I would have ordered his immediate reinstatement. After the event, Mendoza could have been charged with hostage-taking.
Instead, according to Mendoza’s brother Gregorio and Police General Magtibay, it was Mayor Lim himself who ordered the arrest of Gregorio.
Later, it was found out that it was Mayor Lim who wanted Mendoza and his colleagues fired. He admitted on TV that he asked two police generals to file a case against Mendoza at the Ombudsman.
According to reports, the father of the alleged victim of extortion found a connection to Mayor Lim.
Gregorio Mendoza was correct – there was no complainant (the generals who filed the charges were not the original complainant, a certain Mr. Kalaw), no hearing and no due process. A lowly policeman could not possibly have a chance against former presidential candidate, former Senator, former NBI Director and now Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim.
With generals and Mayor Lim arrayed against Mendoza and his co-accused, there couldn’t possibly be any due process. In the Philippines, that could only mean very swift action by the Ombudsman ( or any judicial or quasi judicial courts) against the accused.
The irony is: Mayor Lim is himself ethnically Chinese. In fact, during his presidential run, a case was filed against him charging that he was not a Filipino national but a Chinese national.
UPPING THE ANTE
The Interior and Local Governments secretary Jesse Robredo said that he did not appear on the scene because “that would be upping the ante”. He said that was the top level “game plan”. These fellows (the President and his Cabinet) must really think of themselves too high and mighty to go down to the level of a former Police Senior Inspector and ordinary tourists, whose lives they could have saved with just a sincere assurance to the hijacker that his demands would be looked into, if not given outright.
Funny, this new administration is supposedly sincere and pro-people.
After being given the information by the escaped bus driver that all the hostages were killed, the police attacked the bus. The attack took more than an hour, with the police breaking the doors and windows with a sledgehammer.
The usual instinct of hostage-takers would be to shoot all the hostages if attacked. For some reasons, Mendoza did not shoot all the hostages. Seven of the remaining 15 hostages survived, no thanks to the police.
Philippine authorities would not even sincerely promise to look into the case of a bemedalled police officer sacked from the police force due to charges (which have been dismissed) of robbery and extortion amounting to a measly twenty thousand pesos (P20,000.00) or US$ 416.00 to save the lives of fifteen foreign tourists.
I wonder if the foreign tourists happened to be American whites, would the police act in the same manner?
In the aftermath, the police and the government apologists are blaming the media for the debacle. The media were only doing their job. They did not hinder the police from doing theirs.
By the way the police handled the arrest of Mendoza’s brother, unmindful of the fact that Mendoza knew what was going on through the TV and radio on the bus, one could easily conclude that if the media were not there, worse things could have happened.
Perhaps if the police were left on their own, they wouldn’t have made any negotiations (which saved 10 people) and would have instead simply blasted the bus with RPGs and tear gas and sprayed it with machine gun fire.
Then there would have been 25 people dead including the hijacker.
The case of Sr. Insp. Mendoza indicates the level of corruption in the police and Ombudsman offices and the level of incompetence of the policemen, including its SWAT, in crisis situations.