The mostly Chinese hostages in the recent hostage-taking in Manila were doomed from the start.
The biggest blunder of hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza was that he hijacked a bus and held hostage some two dozen people right in the City of Manila. Mendoza was recently dismissed as a police officer of the Manila Police Department. He held the rank of Senior Inspector or Captain.
A few months ago, Capt. Mendoza and four colleagues in the Manila Police Department were found guilty by the Ombudsman of robbery and extortion in the amount of P 20,000.00 or US$ 416.00. They were dismissed, their pension and other benefits were forfeited and they were banned from any government service.
The curious thing is, Mendoza and company were found guilty on charges which had been previously dismissed by the Prosecutors of the Department of Justice and by the police’s own Internal Affairs Services. The Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the case in August 2008 while the Internal Affairs dropped it in October 2008. Both cases were dropped because of the failure of the complainant, a certain Christian Bautista, to appear.
Yet the same charges were filed at the Ombudsman. And very uncharacteristically, the Ombudsman acted with great speed to find Mendoza and company guilty.
Did the complainant, who failed to appear at the Prosecutor’s office and the Internal Affairs office, suddenly appeared at the Ombudsman? NOPE! He didn’t appear there, too. Instead, a couple of Mendoza’s superiors initiated the complaint, as testified by Mayor Lim.
Deputy Ombudsman Gonzales, however, claims that Kalaw’s father came to him for help. He then became Kalaw’s avenging angel. He said that he asked the Internal Affairs to transfer the case to him but they (Internal Affairs people) still continued and dismissed the case.
But as Mendoza’s brother, Police Officer (SPO2) Gregorio Mendoza said, there was “no complainant, no hearing, no due process.”
It is also very surprising that the Police dismissed Mendoza even with his appeal still pending at the Ombudsman, which is against the law according to a Supreme Court decision.
KINGPIN OF MANILA
Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim began his career as a policeman, too. His ascendancy came when, as a police general, he supported then President Corazon Aquino against coup plotters. After retirement, he was appointed head of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
Lim became Mayor of Manila in 1992. He remained mayor until 1998. As Mayor of Manila, he earned the nickname “Dirty Harry.” In 1998, ex-President Aquino and her political clan supported Mayor Lim for the Presidency. He ran under the Liberal Party. But the popular actor-politician and then incumbent VP Joseph Estrada beat him to the Presidency.
In 2004, Lim ran and won a seat in the Senate. But he got bored in the Senate so in 2007, he returned to his fiefdom as Mayor again. This year, he ran for re-election under the Liberal Party under Corazon Aquino’s son, Benigno 3rd.
In the City of Manila, nobody is more powerful than Mayor Alfredo “Dirty Harry” Lim.
And since the crime was happening in Manila, nobody could take control of the situation other than the Manila Mayor himself. Perhaps that was the reason why the head of the national police himself, Gen. Verzosa, chose instead to fly to Mindanao.
LA SALLE POWER
Around May 2008, a La Salle alumnus, Bob Kalaw, sent an e-mail to his e-group recounting the alleged story of his son Christian. He asked for their help: “YOU GUYS KNOW INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE IN THE SERVICE, PLS LET THEM KNOW ABOUT THIS.
The influential friends acted immediately.
When the viral email reached “Dirty Harry” Lim, he was furious. He wanted to make an example of Mendoza and company. Mayor Lim himself said on TV that he ordered Mendoza’s superiors to file charges against him at the Ombudsman.
The media reports and online discussions are hazy. It appears that both the Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor’s Office dropped the charges because of non-appearance of complainant.
Even the father, who circulated the e-mail, never set foot at the Manila Police Department or the Dept. of Justice. Police General Eleazar Pepito Matta even e-mailed the concerned e-group’s members asking for their help to contact Mr. Kalaw to further the investigation. Apparently, the crusading father and victim son were seen anywhere.
GUILTY WITHOUT TRIAL
Apparently, for Mayor Lim, the absence of a complainant is not a hindrance to file charges at the Ombudsman. And to the Ombudsman, there was no need for a hearing because it decided: “We find the lone testimony of Christian credible on the ground that he would not concoct such a traumatic story against respondents if it were not true.”
It is not even clear how the testimony was submitted. Was the email regarded as the testimony? Did Christian personally filed a case against Mendoza at the Ombudsman. It seems unlikely because Mayor Lim himself said on TV that he ordered the one or two police generals to charge Mendoza and company at the Ombudsman. And Mendoza’s brother, Gregorio said that there was “no complainant” in his brother’s case.
The Philippine Ombudsman is responsible for investigating and prosecuting government officials for graft and corruption. Unfortunately, the Office of the Ombudsman is not known to have prosecuted any top government officials in spite of the numerous recommendations by the Senate and House of Representatives.
In fact, the present Ombudsman, Merceditas Gutierrez, is perceived to be too close to former President Gloria Arroyo such that any case filed against the former president will not prosper. There is now an impeachment petition against the Ombudsman in Congress.
Cases at the Ombudsman are usually expected to be dismissed or to last forever.
But the case against Mendoza et al was done with extreme haste. By Sept 27, the Ombudsman already found Mendoza’s group to be guilty as charged.
Thus, Rolando Mendoza’s 30-year or so service, including all the medals and awards he received as exemplary policeman, was reduced to naught.
Mendoza appealed and sent three hand-written letters to the Ombudsman praying for a review of the case. All to no avail.
Mendoza posted a large cartolina paper in the windshield of the bus enumerating the case numbers of his cases at the Ombudman. This action indicates that Mendoza wanted the world to look into his case and decide for themselves. In the cartolina, he wrote: Release Final Decision. It is obvious that Mendoza believes he was not guilty.
(DEPUTY) OMBUDSMAN EXTORTED MENDOZA
According to the testimony of Maj. Salvador, the hostage assistant negotiator, and the bus driver Mr. Lubang, Mendoza got very agitated when he was talking to Deputy Ombudsman Gonzalez. He exclaimed, “P….. I.. mo (S.O.B.), Humihingi ka pa ng P 150, 000.00! P….. I.. mo! Kung may mamamatay dito, kasalanan mo lahat!” (S.O.B., You were even asking for P150,000.00 If people will die here, it is all your fault! You S.O.B.!)
Poor Mendoza and company. They were punished for allegedly extorting P20,000.00 when in reality, the (Deputy) Ombudsman was extorting them seven and a half times more!
The Ombudsman reasoned they found “the lone testimony of Christian credible on the ground that he would not concoct such a traumatic story against respondents if it were not true.” In the same vein, we find the lone testimony of Rolando Mendoza credible on the ground that he would not concoct such a traumatic story against Gonzales if it were not true.
According to Manila Vice Mayor Isko Moreno, when Mendoza was talking to the Ombudsman Gutierrez over the phone, Gutierrez denied having read any of Mendoza’s letters. She claimed she had not received them. How could the Ombudsman not have received written appeals of a pending case?
And now it seems that these handwritten letters are missing!
MENDOZA ASKED HIS PAPERS TO BE DELIVERED TO DOJ
According to the testimony of the assistant negotiator Major Salvador, during chief negotiator Col. Yerba’s and Mendoza’s first meeting at around 10:45 am, Mendoza gave Yerba his case folders. He asked that it be delivered to the Dept. of Justice and Justice Secretary Laila De Lima. Yerba then asked PO2 Rivera to have the papers xeroxed and have them delivered to Sec. De Lima at DOJ.
Investigating panel head Sec. de Lima asked Salvador if he has any knowledge about any delivery to the Ombudsman. He did not.
During the first day of hearings and since the Aug. 23 incident, nobody said anything about Mendoza asking that his papers be delivered to DOJ and Sec. De Lima. De Lima herself was surprised to learn about it only last Friday or Saturday after reading the sworn affidavits of the bus driver and Major Salvador.
The top brass, including Mayor Lim, did not mention anything about Mendoza’s papers being delivered to the DOJ.
Considering the bad reputation of the Ombudsman and the very bad experience of Mendoza, including the alleged extortion attempt, it is not very logical for him to put his hopes on the Ombudsman.
On the other hand, the very good reputation of de Lima, the former Human Rights Commissioner, it is very logical that Mendoza would want the new Sec. of Justice to be involved. In the first place, the charges against him were already dismissed by the DOJ. The new Justice Secretary would immediately see that there was something fishy about the case.
Mendoza was simply demanding that the Ombudsman should release its final judgement on the case.
Col. Yebra, on the other hand, maintained that Mendoza wanted to send copies to both the DOJ and Ombudsman. Yet he asked Rivera to photocopy only 2 sets. If both were to be sent, he would not have any copy left as Mendoza wanted his copy back. It is but logical to have an extra copy to show to his superiors or anyone who would like to look into the matter.
At any rate, when Yebra talked to Gen. Magtibay, he said: “Sir, may request na ipadala ang folder kay Secretary.” That was according to him. He did not mention the Ombudsman.
And, neither he nor anybody else ordered Rivera to deliver copies to the Ombudsman.
NOT DELIVERED TO DOJ
Maj. Salvador, Col Yebra and the bus driver (in his written testimony) testified that Mendoza demanded that his papers be sent to the DOJ. Col. Yebra asked PO2 Dennis Rivera to photocopy and bring the papers to the DOJ and Sec. de Lima.
According to Rivera, when he was already almost at the gate of DOJ, he was told by radio to return to the Command Post with the papers.
Rivera said that Isko Moreno told him that the papers should be sent to the Ombudsman instead.
Why was it important that the Manila Vice Mayor would be the one to bring the papers to the Ombudsman?
An hour or so later, Rivera was again asked to deliver the papers to the DOJ. But, he was radioed again to return to the Command Post with the letters.
Obviously, somebody was afraid to send the papers to DOJ and Secretary de Lima.
OMBUDSMAN WAS A RED HERRING
From the testimony of Maj. Salvador and parts of testimony of Col. Yebra and the actions of police officer Rivera, it can be concluded that Mendoza asked that his papers be sent only to the DOJ / Sec. de Lima. After all, his case was still pending at the Ombudsman and so it could be presumed that the Ombudsman’s office still has the complete record of his case.
But somebody or some people do not want the DOJ to interfere. Rivera was sent twice to DOJ to deliver the papers but was asked to return twice, with the papers, to Luneta.
And the handsome actor now Vice Mayor Moreno made a big to-do about going to the Ombudsman, in great haste, even asking a motorcycle cop they met on the way to escort his vehicle. He even begged (the Ombudsman and her deputies), borrowed (a police car) and stole ( a motorcycle cop from his post) to obtain a letter from the Ombudsman promising to review the case.
The whole Ombudsman affair was just a diversionary tactic so as not to involve the DOJ and Sec. De Lima.
Ironically, the committee constituted to investigate the crisis is headed by the same Sec. Laila de Lima.
The red herring turned out to be costly as it was the first tipping point.
Upon reading the Ombudsman’s letter, Mendoza immediately declared the Ombudsman letter as “Basura!” (Garbage!)
STRATEGY: TO TIRE MENDOZA OUT
DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo, who is now also a member of the investigating committee, told the media earlier that the only strategy of the Crisis Management Committee was “to tire him (Mendoza) out.”
Even Mayor Lim said that he decided to go to the Emerald Restaurant because it was already getting dark and he expected Mendoza to soon tire himself out. “Papagurin na lang natin si Mendoza,” (Let’s just tire Mendoza out) said Lim.
Obviously, the whole Ombudsman-Moreno affair was just a diversion. There was no real attempt to appease Mendoza and end the hostage crisis.
LACK OF TV / RADIO MONITOR
In this Age of Information Technology and the Mass Media, it is quite amazing that the Crisis Management Committee (actually composed only of Mayor Lim, Gen. Magtibay and a couple of his deputies) did not even have a TV / radio monitor in the premises. And so did the negotiating team. They were oblivious to what was happening with Mendoza and the media. They did not even know that Mendoza was already interviewed through cellphones by the media.
They seem oblivious to the fact that practically the whole world was watching. Didn’t they even notice that foreign news media, including CNN, were there?
ARRESTING THE BROTHER
It was the height of idiocy to order the arrest the policeman-brother of the hostage-taker. Even if the police were able to spirit away Gregorio Mendoza without the knowledge of media, it would only be a matter of time before the news of his disappearance would be relayed to Mendoza and the media.
Fearing for his life, Senior Police Officer Gregorio Mendoza ran to the media and asked for their help. And with the eyes of the world on Mendoza’s brother, the police still arrested him despite his pleas and his demand to tell him on what charge he was being arrested.
The sight of his brother and nephew and other relatives screaming for help against the police was simply too much for the hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza. He snapped. Perhaps anybody else would do the same.