Safety of hostages not prime consideration in bus hostage crisis.

The committee investigating the Aug. 23 tourist bus hijacking ended its questioning of witnesses last night. The committee has shown all and sundry that:

  • The primary strategy of the CMC (according to Mayor Lim) and the national government (accdg. to DILG Sec. Robredo) was to simply tire out the hijacker
  • The Crisis Management Committee (CMC) was set up only in the mind of Mayor Lim. All or most of its members were not gathered in one room. The head of the CMC (Mayor Lim) arrived at the Command Post only at around 5 pm, almost 7 hours after the start of the hostage-taking. And he left about an hour later, supposedly to set up another Command Post at the nearby Emerald Restaurant.
  • The Police does not have a permanent negotiating unit. Col. Yebra, who has taken up some seminars on hostage negotiations abroad, is its only negotiator.
  • The crisis was considered “local” and thus did not involve national officials. The national officials who earlier claimed were on top of the situation were monitoring things only through cellphones. One or two came to the restaurant only when the shooting has already started. This was the case even though the hostages were foreign nationals.
  • The police was very disorganized. It had no crowd control or media control group. “Manila’s Finest” cops do not even know how to assault a bus with an armed hijacker.
  • The CMC did not even have a TV or radio set in the Command Post to monitor the situation.
  • It was a miracle that there were survivors.

BLAME GAME

The police officials seem to be fond of blaming everyone except themselves.

First, they blamed the person to whom Mendoza was reading the Ombudsman’s letter over the phone. They said that whoever he was, he convinced Mendoza to disregard the Ombudsman’s letter.

It turned out that Mendoza was reading the letter over the phone to the radio announcer Michael Rogas. And that it was Mendoza himself, without any prompting from anyone, who declared the letter as Garbage or “Basura”.

Second, they blamed Mendoza’s brother, Gregorio for Mendoza’s becoming angry at the negotiator. But Mendoza already got angry because of the Ombudsman’s letter. He became furious when he learned that the negotiator Col. Yebra has not yet returned his brother’s gun even though Yebra had told him earlier that he already gave back his brother’s gun.

As Mendoza told radio announcer Michael Rogas, he could not trust Yebra anymore because it has been proven to him that Yebra was a liar. He thus wanted another negotiator.

Third, immediately after the incident, the bus driver who managed to escape was brought to a farther police station for questioning without telling anyone. The police immediately tagged the bus driver as an accomplice, just as they did to Mendoza’s brother Gregorio.

The assistant manager of the travel agency waited  for the driver until midnight at the police command post. When the driver did not return by midnight, she decided to look for him. They went to all the Manila police stations. At 5 am, she finally found him at the farthest Manila police station. The bus driver was being interrogated continuously. She said that the interrogation stopped at 8 am the following morning.

Unfortunately, the committee did not question the driver on what happened during the interrogation, at least not publicly. I suppose they had the intelligence to question him in an executive session (closed door session).

Fortunately for the driver, the radio station RMN was able to record the last minutes of the crisis. In the recording, one could hear the driver pleading for his life, just as he said he did. From the TV footage, it looked like he was just having a conversation with the hostage-taker.

Fourth, the police blamed their lack of equipment, etc. In effect, they were blaming the government for their lack of budget to procure the necessary equipment, training, etc.

The Aquino government people on the other hand passed the buck to the previous administration since, they said, they assumed office only some 55 days earlier.

Finally, the police blames the media. And for this, they got a lot of support — from the administration, the administration supporters, and some of the more gullible public.

THE MEDIA

In this Age of Information Technology, the pervasiveness of mass media is a fact.  In the 1970s, there was one TV in most houses and perhaps a couple of radios. There were radios in cars, jeeps, taxis and buses. The phones were left in houses and offices. But today, one is almost never disconnected from media.

Everybody has a cellphone. Many cellphones have FM radios and some have TV reception. Computers are everywhere. And with computers, one can connect with practically anyone.

Keeping an incident from media or vice versa is not an easy thing to do. That would take hands-on negotiations with media authorities.

In spite of the presence of so many media people, including foreign media like CNN; and in spite of the presence of TV and radio sets in the bus as well as the presence of cellphones with the hostage-taker, the police or the so-called Crisis Management Committee thought that they could simply ignore the media.

First, the Philippine media, which is used to publishing or broadcasting stories based on single sources, especially sources from the authorities, immediately put out the news demonizing the hostage-taker. They recounted the allegations or the charges against him at the Ombudsman. They of course, also mentioned his several medals and awards, but naturally, the hostage-taker was very concerned about the negative news about him.

In the era of cellphones, it was impossible to keep the news from him. Even without TV or radio, his friends and relatives would convey to him what was on the news about him.

He naturally demanded for his airtime, which the police naturally denied.

After about 8 hours of the crisis, and nighttime was at hand, the public was already apprehensive. What was going to happen? Were the hostages still alive? The demand was a very simple one yet the negotiation was going apparently nowhere.

It is the function of media to inform the public. While the media is there to support the political and economic systems, there would be journalists who would be curious and would want to know what was really going on.

When Mendoza’s brother ran to the media asking help claiming that he is being arrested for no reason, and his children and wife covering him and protecting him from the police, no journalist worthy of the name would shut off his camera or microphone.

HOSTAGES’ LIVES

Teresita Ang See, the Fil-Chinese representive in tha investigative committed kept on repeating to media persons that lives are more important than news.

She really should have asked the police officers and Mayor Lim: “What was more important: the lives of hostages or subduing the hostage-taker?”  Or, “what was more important: the lives of hostages or the decision of the Ombudsman and decision of the police top brass to fire him and forfeit all his benefits?”

The demand of the hijacker was so simple, it was incredible. He merely wanted REINSTATEMENT. An order from the PNP rescinding his dismissal pending final decision of Ombudsman could have been done in a matter of minutes.

In the first place, it was pointed out by Atty. Roan Libarios of the investigating committee that a decision by the Ombudsman is not executory pending appeal if the punishment is more than one month suspension.

Mendoza was therefore correct in complaining that he was dismissed from service, with all benefits and pensions forfeited and not allowed to return to government service, even before his appeal was decided upon.

Had the top brass simply sat back and listened to Mendoza’s demands, they could have given the reinstatement order immediately, pending upon final Ombudsman decision.

But that would have meant admitting their mistake. Ms. Ang See should have asked Gen. Magtibay, “Was admitting your mistake worse than the loss of lives of innocent civilians?”

If Mayor Lim and the police generals really cared for the lives of the hostages, they could have promised Mendoza anything he wanted. They could do anything with him — like arresting him for hostage-taking — AFTER he has surrendered.

In other countries or even other cities, the crisis would not have lasted more than 4 hours.

NO ENLIGHTENED LEADERSHIP

If there was an enlightened Filipino leader, he would have immediately asked for Mendoza’s folders. He would have known that Mendoza’s criminal and administrative cases — the same case as the one in the Ombudsman– were dismissed two years ago. He would have known that in the Ombudsman case, there was no hearing, no cross-examination of the accuser. He would have known that the actual supposed victim was not even the complainant, as one can gather from news reports. He would have known that Mendoza was not given due process. He would have known that the police hierarchy acted with haste in firing him since the appeal was still pending.

An enlightened leader would have immediately ordered the reinstatement of Mendoza pending the Ombudsman’s decision and ordering an investigation into the case. At the same time, he would order the arrest of Mendoza for the crime of hostage-taking — after his surrender.

An enlightened leader would have considered saving the lives of the hostages as the prime objective and would have acted in speedy manner to achieve that end.

KARMA FOR THE OMBUDSMAN

Karma seems to have struck fast. While Menodza was accused of extorting P20,000.00, Mendoza accused Deputy Ombudsman Gonzales over the phone, and witnessed by two police officers (Col. Yebra and Maj. Salvador), of extorting him (Mendoza) in the amount of P 150,000.00 . The accusation of a dying man would not be easy to live down.

An enlightened leader would immediately order the investigation of the Deputy Ombudsman. Mendoza may be dead, but his four co-accused are not.

The Ombudsman herself is now about to face impeachment in Congress. The petitions for impeachment have just been approved by the congressional committee.

There are rumors circulating, as the investigative committee chair Sec. de Lima herself said, that Mendoza was involved in the arrest of Mayor Lim’s son in a drug buy-bust operation a few years ago. Was that the reason why Mayor Lim ordered the filing of charges at the Ombudsman against Mendoza?

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Manila hijacking hostages doomed from the start

Deputy Ombudsman allegedly extorted Mendoza

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