Facing the Music: The Manila Hostage Taking Crisis

12 hours of hell
12 hours of hell
an armed and desperate man
an armed and desperate man

Tragedies like the August 23, 2010 hostage taking turned-carnage at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila has the power to leave a nasty taste on everyone's palate that is difficult to dispel. Somewhere in the middle of the 12-hour crisis everyone assumed it was nearing resolution but things went south as the hours passed. How will the Philippine government explain the events of that fateful night?

I am a proud Filipino, I love my country I love my people, I believe in my government. But even I can't help but cringe at the ineptness of the people who handled the hostage crisis. I started following it on the news around 5:00 PM Manila time and was mildly surprised at how long it has gone on as it started around mid-morning. As a spectator, the demands of the hostage taker was the first thing I wanted to know. Ex-Police Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza wants to know the decision of the Ombudsman on his case. He got embroiled in an extortion charge and was relieved of his duties in 2008. He is set to retire next year and stands to lose his benefits if found guilty. Another demand is his reinstatement to his post. (He has been a police officer for 11 years and received recognitions and citations for doing his job.)

In other words he was a desperate man. How he knew about the tour bus carrying Hong Kong nationals on their last day of a leisure holiday in Manila is beyond everyone. I don't think the investigation has gone that far yet. He hijacked the bus in Fort Santiago and took it to its last destination, the Quirino grandstand where just a few weeks before, incoming Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (Noynoy) took his oath of office.

The Philippines is not new to hostage taking but more often than not these events end with the hostage-taker losing his life and the hostages living to tell their tale. This could have been the outcome of the Monday hostage drama. It had all the indications of being resolved. If you watch all those US police crime series you would think that Mendoza is the type of hostage taker the police would want to deal with. His demands were quite simple, a ruling on his case and his reinstatement to the force. His actions indicated that he is disinclined to resort to violence. He released a total of 10 hostages (children and the aged) to show good faith. Let us not forget though that he is a desperate man out to kill and be killed, the mere action of taking innocent people at gunpoint would indicate that. One does not need a specialty in criminal profiling to know that measures need to be taken to ensure that he does not get more agitated and angry than he already is.


Going South, Turning Sour

Things started to go downhill after he trashed the document he received from the Office of the Ombudsman saying that his case will be given a 10-day priority review and ruling. This was around 5:00 PM. He started losing his calm demeanor especially after his brother Gregorio also a police officer (who was helping the negotiators) fueled Mendoza's anger by suggesting that Mendoza demand the return of Gregorio's firearm taken by the police earlier in the day.

Mendoza finally lost it when he watched his brother cause a scene and resist arrest. I think this is where the first big mistake happened. It was reported that Mendoza was monitoring the events on the television inside the bus and saw his brother's emotional outburst to the media about being arrested. This was the start of the end of the crisis and everything was caught on TV as the whole world watched.

an inept assault
an inept assault

The Tune of the Aftermath

How the police can make a poor job of rescuing the hostages from a lone gun man is the niggling thought on everyones mind. It was in mine at least as I watched outraged at the ineptness of our Special Weapons and Tactics team (SWAT). It is plain to see that they were too afraid to take on Mendoza even after he has started shooting his hostages. Much of the tentativeness of the assault team was clearly due to the fact that they were ill-equipped to undertake an assault. Most of the men on the team had no helmets, no Kevlar vests and only had handguns. After gassing the bus they were unable to storm in immediately as they had no gas masks. They used sledgehammers that could not break the fiber glass at one go, they used a rope to pul out the bus door and the rope broke (wasn't there a chain anywhere?). It took them almost an hour to subdue Mendoza after he opened fire on the hostages. It also took a while to get to the survivors and bring them to safety.

Philippine President Aquino, of Chinese descent
Philippine President Aquino, of Chinese descent

Facing the Music

After watching the sorry events that took almost 12 hours I believe the anger and resentment felt by the Hong Kong people is warranted. Now every move that our government makes towards appeasing the anger of Hong Kong is met with suspicion and skepticism and anger. Even President Aquino's smiles during interviews and press conferences after the event were highly criticized. Every little move...

I still believe that the Chinese people is intelligent enough to see through the shortcomings of our police force to our genuine grief and remorse over the whole affair. Nobody should have to go through what the hostages went through that night, it is really a painfully sad event. And indeed we are facing the music as best as we can. Five police leaders have been sacked for the major errors in judgment committed on that fateful night. Profuse apologies have been made left and right and the resolve to improve our capabiilties has never been stronger.

Our President is not making light of the events, he simply cannot afford to, and he is after all of Chinese descent (his middle name is Cojuangco). He may need to school his features when speaking in public. I have noticed early on that his smile is very similar to his sneer, a trait that he shares with his father former Senator and national hero, Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. I have seen some of Ninoy's speeches and interviews against Marcos and noticed that he masks his anger with a sneer that is masked in a smile.

This is the most serious problem facing our nation at this point, my hope is that we learn our lessons well. I pray for the ones who did not make it and I hope the flames of anger and strong emotions will not be fanned by careless comments, hasty judgments and further missteps as we face the music.

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