Today in Philippine history, August 23, 2010, an armed man held hostage in Manila a busload of Hong Kong tourists

Friday October 06, 2017 ()
Manila bus hostage crisis

On August 23, 2010, exactly 54 days before the Benigno Aquino III Administration completed its second month in office, the sorry state of the country’s corruption and national security situations embarrassingly unfolded before the eyes of the world.

For 10 hours on that fateful day, a man armed with an M16 automatic rifle and a .45 caliber pistol held hostage a busload of tourists from Hong Kong, killing eight of them and wounding seven others. The incompetence of the government in negotiating, in neutralizing the gunman and in controlling the crowd of onlookers, unfolded in living colors before television screens.

What eventually came to light was that the gunman was a highly decorated police officer, Capt. Rolando Mendoza, who was dismissed from the police after 30 years of service and his meritorious appeal for reinstatement, which should have been resolved within five days, had been pending with the Office of the Ombudsman for more than nine months.

Mendoza claimed that his motion for reconsideration was not acted upon because he failed to pay the P150,000 that an Ombudsman official demanded. Instead of investigating his startling revelation that could have prevented the bloodshed, Ombudsman authorities just ignored him.

While negotiators were feverishly working for his surrender, he saw on TV his younger brother, Gregorio, also a policeman, being arrested and disarmed while trying to help pacify him. That scene enraged him, and he started shooting his hostages. It was only then, over nine and a half hours later that the police stormed the bus. The younger Mendoza later told reporters his brother had grown tired of waiting for justice.

The police assault stalled when they failed to immediately break through the plexiglass windows of the bus to force open its door. It strangely took 66 minutes, from the time the assault began, to finally neutralize the gunman when a sniper shot him in the head.

Subsequently, the committee tasked to investigate and review the incident adjudged the police ground commander to have been an "incompetent commander, organizer and manager", who was also "grossly and recklessly insubordinate at a most crucial moment".

The committee also found fault with many more people, including the top officials of the city of Manila for failing to fully activate the Office of the Ombudsman, ranking and middle-level officers of the police and meddlers from the press. In the epilogue of its report, the committee wrote:

"The ghosts are ours alone. A man with a perceived injustice and oppression done against him, so common in Philippine society, cornered and forced to a murderous and insane mission, the incompetence and insubordination of a police commander, the aggravating vigilantism of a politician, the disregard for the proper use of a crisis system by the crisis responders, the reckless irresponsibility of media people and their total abhorrence to any form of the restraint in the practice of their trade. These are our own ghosts that we must now face squarely. ..."

Investigators learned later that the irate Mendoza was removed from his post as chief of the Manila Police’s Mobile Patrol Unit in 2008 after he was charged with a flimsy crime of robbery and extortion, known as the so-called hulidap, a practice of some police of planting evidence and extorting from the victims. Mendoza claimed he was innocent and appealed for reinstatement.

After hitching a ride while the tourist bus was moving from Fort Santiago to Manila Ocean Park, Mendoza pulled out his guns from a bag, told his hostages to freeze and posted hand-written messages on the bus windows, including "Big deal will start after 3 p.m. today," that alarmed policemen patrolling nearby.

As the bus stopped, he just ignored some policemen who tried to convince him to give up. Meanwhile, the bus driver, Alberto Lubang, 38, who escaped minutes before the attack, told police and reporters that hostages had already been killed. Media men at the scene claimed Mendoza was provoked by the sight of his emotional policeman-brother being pacified and handcuffed.

On October 2, in the aftermath of that hostage-taking incident, then-President Benigno S. Aquino III issued Memorandum Order 6, directing the formulation of the National Security Policy and National Security Strategy for 2010-2016. The policy and strategy were to focus on four key elements: governance; delivery of basic services; economic reconstruction and sustainable development; and security- sector reform.

He directed the national security adviser and director-general of the National Security Council to submit the National Security policy by end-November 2010, and the National Security Strategy by end-April 2011. All government agencies were tasked to prepare security-related programs. The private sector was enjoined to participate, "in order to arrive at a national consensus on our development objectives and national security priorities".

One might conclude that, with the new National Security Policy in place, our lives and businesses can proceed in an environment of peace, safety and security. But, it was not the case, as his inept government got stuck with several more intractable incidents, including plunders and corruption of every size, make and shape involving billions of pesos in pork-barrel funds and the Malampaya funds.

Worse, the corruption at the Ombudsman was not even investigated, and, thus, created a perception that it exists just to protect the Yellows.

Sources:

  • Corruption in the Ombudsman that led to a bloodbath, Cecilio Arillo, October 2, 2017, The Business Mirror
  • "Gunman killed" as police storm Manila hostage bus, James Meikle, August 23, 2010, The Guardian


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