Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Quirino Grandstand Hostage Situation - Why hasn't anyone been fired?

It's been a day since the hostage drama at the Quirino Grandstand yesterday, when the sheer incompetence of the Philippine police was seen worldwide. I'm just wondering why no one has been sacked?

Even a moron can see that there were blunders, MAJOR, MAJOR blunders, at that! People are calling that SWAT team the worst SWAT team ever. They were too macho to ask for help from units who could have done better.

Also, bad decisions were made. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that arresting the hostage taker's brother would cause him to lose it. All they had to do was humor him and his brother until the hostages were freed. Agree to his demand to be reinstated. After the hostages are free, throw the book at him for hostage taking.

Worst of all, what kind of SWAT is this? No thermal imaging, no bullet-proof armor. And why were they using M-16's for close quarter combat? The assault was very clumsy! Some people say it's not the SWAT's fault because they don't have the equipment that other countries have. Maybe other countries' policemen have a monopoly on intelligence. I've seen kids play Counterstrike with better tactical plans. Also, what happened to all the tax money? They're supposed to be used for training and equipment and things like that. Another guy who was interviewed said that we had all the equipment, but that they weren't used!

I think it's very probable that some of the hostages were injured from police fire/sledgehammer attacks. I wonder what will happen when that comes out. We citizens should really use this incident constructively to demand for a cleaner, better, more professional police force.

I wish Horatio Caine was real and we can import him and his Sunglasses of Justice here. Now here's a thought - require all policemen to watch CSI, NCIS, Flashpoint, 24... and do a Check for Understanding quiz afterwards!

Quirino Grandstand Hostage Situation - Totally Incompetent Handling

Like millions of Filipinos, I was glued to the television the whole night tonight watching the hostage taking situation unfold, and increasingly dismayed and irritated at the incompetence I was seeing live.

Here's a quick rundown of the situation as I understand it:

1. On Aug. 23, at around 7:30am, a policeman entered a tourist bus in the Luneta area touring Manila Ocean Park. It was the tourists' last day in Manila and they were scheduled to go back to Hongkong later that day. The policeman first claimed that he was there to protect the tourists, but then took out a gun and told the people on the bus that they were now his hostages.

2. The policeman was ex-Capt. Rolando Mendoza. He demanded his reinstatement (he was dismissed and lost his retirement benefits. More on that here).

3. The whole day, negotiations seemed to be doing well. Mendoza asked for food and gas, and released hostages in return. Mendoza's brother Gregorio arrived to help with the negotiations and talk to his brother. We were following the story on TV the whole day.

4. At around 6:30pm, I was channel surfing when I saw the drama start to unfold. Mendoza's brother Gregorio was sitting on the ground surrounded by relatives and media, and police were trying to arrest him. Gregorio seemed hysterical and was claiming that the police had taken him "through the back" to kill him if anything went wrong and that he had just ran and was able to escape. He ran to the front of the police station to get protection through media attention.

5. The police then proceeded to grab the relatives surrounding Gregorio, all of whom refused to let go. There was also a lot of crying and screaming by the relatives, and police forcibly pulling the relatives apart. All this was shown on TV.

6. A few minutes after Gregorio was arrested, shots were heard from inside the bus. Some time after that, the bus driver was seen handcuffed to the steering wheel and seemed to be fumbling with something. Then the bus driver apparently escaped using a nailcutter, slid down from the window and kept screaming "Patay na lahat!" (Everone is dead).

7. The bus driver was taken into police custody apparently for debriefing (I hope). After that, police SWAT teams started surrounding the bus. They looked unprofessional and bumbling. Sorry, I was expecting Jack Bauer-like precision and professionalism. Using sledgehammers, they started smashing the windows and the door. They were having a hard time hitting the panes because the windows were high and the cops were trying to avoid being in the line of fire. Then the cop trying to break the bus door panes lost his grip on the sledgehammer and the hammer flew inside onto the bus steps. It was comical if it wasn't so sad. Then they had another bright idea - tie rope around the bus door and use a police pick-up truck to pull the door apart. When they tried this, the rope broke.

8. Shots were fired from inside the bus, leading the police to realize that the hostage taker was still alive. The hostage taker fired several times throughout this assault every time the police tried to get into the bus. A bystander (usisero) was injured.

9. Police fired into the bus and apparently kill the hostage taker. The hostage taker's body slumped out from the bus door. But the police were still cautious going into the bus.

10. Police get in and find some hostages still alive. All in all, 7 hostages were killed.

In my humble opinion, the police should not have arrested Mendoza's brother Gregorio on live TV. It's their prerogative to call for a media blackout, but in this case I think it was better that they didn't, so that everyone could see the level of their incompetence. Anyway, that was handled very badly. Even if he was suspected of being an accessory to the crime, they could have waited until the hostage situation was resolved before arresting Gregorio. Gregorio, being a policeman himself, probably knew what awaited him if he let himself be carted away, and that's why he acted all that drama on live TV over being picked up. In all likelihood, he would probably have been used as a bargaining chip to get Mendoza to surrender, like, "Surrender and let all the hostages go or we'll kill your brother!" Seeing his relatives being hauled off probably enraged Mendoza, who according to some reports asked for his relatives to be released or he would start killing hostages. A few minutes after, shots were heard from inside the bus. According to twitterdom, I am not the only one who thinks that the killings could have been avoided if Mendoza's brother was not arrested. This was the turning point, the trigger that caused this all to end badly. It doesn't take a genius to predict how Mendoza would react upon seeing his family arrested. You do not provoke a hostage taker.

What's worse, the PNP didn't even seem to check if the hostages were still alive before trying to break in to the bus. We don't know if some of the hostages were killed by police fire. I am also suspicious of the driver - why did he scream that everyone was dead when apparently at least 4 hostages were still alive? Did Mendoza deliberately release the bus driver to make it seem like everyone was dead?

All through this situation, I was hoping that it would turn out well, like that bus hijacking episode from Numb3rs (Jacked, Season 5 Ep 12), but realistically I didn't think anyone there had the brains to even conceptualize anything like that.

Twittersphere and Facebook were full of comments about the PNP and the SWAT's incompetence. Jokes abounded. There were even comments that the PNP/SWAT should learn proper procedure and crisis management from watching CSI, NCIS and playing Counterstrike. Here are some acronyms I saw:

SWAT - Sorry Wala Akong Training or Sorry, We Aren't Trained
SWAT - Sugod, Wait, Atras, Takbo
SWAT PNP - Sus Wala Akong Talent, Puro Naman Palpak
SWAT - Sana Wag Akong Tamaan
SWAT Training - http://bit.ly/9TF2cq

I feel really bad for the tourists who came here to vacation but instead ended up dead. Nananahimik lang silang nagbabakasyon. Hongkong just issued a travel ban to the Philippines. How this was handled is extremely embarrassing. Also, from the hostage taker's point of view, how did he think he would get his job back after pulling this stunt? The PNP should use this incident to push for reform, remove low IQ individuals from their roster, and insist on hiring better quality personnel! I shudder that these fools have a government-sanctioned access to guns!

And another thing, don't they have proper equipment? Don't they have flash bombs, night-vision goggles, thermal imaging? Why did it take them so long to figure out that there was an emergency button on the bus that would open a door from the outside? Some things to consider when revamping the PNP. And who was the idiot who ordered Mendoza's brother arrested? It was shocking that not one of the police there (there were a lot of them) showed any initiative at all to try to appease Gregorio. Didn't any one of them realize the consequences of what was happening? Didn't anyone see the big picture? They all just dumbly followed orders. Following orders is great, but when you realize that something is going wrong, you  adjust! So Gregorio was freaking out. Then try to make it less of a media circus and back off and arrest him another time when his brother doesn't have the lives of several hostages on the line. Damn, this is really infuriating. The incompetence is unbelievable!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

An Early Dinner at Je Suis Gourmand

This is the best foie gras I have ever had.

The other day, the boyfriend was hungry and craving for some unlimited sashimi. Unfortunately, we were in the Makati area and Zensho and Yakimix were too far away. I suggested going to the Fort. I had several ulterior motives - check out Burgos Circle and Cafe Juanita, and possibly Je Suis Gourmand. I had him at foie gras. He loves foie gras, could eat it all day without feeling "umay".

For all that I have heard about Je Suis Gourmand, I was expecting someplace bigger, and maybe something that looked like a five-star hotel restaurant. However, the restaurant was small and cozy, and I noticed that they used rattan chairs. I liked how they incorporated the rattan chairs into the cozy French ambience.

We were the only diners there because it was early. The pan-seared foie gras (Php980+) was not on the menu, of course. I had read about it here. We ordered the foie gras and had it split into 2 half orders. I'm glad we did. I don't think I could have eaten all of my half order. I even gave about a third of my foie to the boyfriend, who was so very happy to have more foie. Don't get me wrong, the fois gras was the best I've ever had, and I think I will be dreaming of it often, but I don't need to eat a lot of it. I had my share and I was satisfied. Besides, I was starting to feel my arteries swimming with gras.

But the fois gras was oh, so good. It was perfectly seared. It was soft and buttery, with just a hint of the liver taste. It melts in your mouth while the searing produces a contrast of slight bitterness and caramelization. The sauce was a balsamic reduction and it was perfect - sweet, complex and superb. The boyfriend loved everything so much he did not hesitate to get some bread from the bread basket and wipe the plate with it. He is normally very well-mannered and I teased him for going crazy over this. But it is worth going crazy over.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

It rained early morning yesterday. It was the perfect day for me - balmy, not sunny; overcast skies, mild sunlight. No, I'm not a vampire. I just don't like sunny days like most people do. I like feeling the energy of a storm, and I particularly love the weather that presages a downpour.

I made myself some chocolate oatmeal and drowned it in milk, and settled myself on the terrace to appreciate the fine morning reading a book. Stieg Larsson's Millenium books have been the 'IT' books for the past year, much like Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code or the Twilight series were in the past. So on that fine morning, I decided to see for myself what all the fuss was about and started reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Fire Lake Grill, Cliffhouse, Tagaytay

For our meal before we were to go back to Manila, we decided to eat at Bawai's. Unfortunately, in my hurry to leave Manila, I was not able to take note of Bawai's location or contact information, and nobody else seemed to know where it was - we asked hotel staff and several other people. We tried driving around hoping we would find it, but we didn't, so we decided to eat somewhere else, and since we were driving around, we passed by Cliffhouse several times, and I remembered reading good reviews about Cliffhouse, so we ended up in Cliffhouse.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Gourmet Farms, Tagaytay

Gourmet is famous as one of the pioneers of healthy eating in this country. I remember the Gourmet cafe in the old Greenbelt when I was still on my first job working in Makati. I've read many blogs posting about Gourmet's farm in Tagaytay and was curious, so we decided to go take the tour.

We first had breakfast here (see photo up top), which is now called Refreshers, The Gourmet Diner, while waiting for the tour. I had Ceasar's salad and my friend had the smoked salmon sandwich. The food was okay but nothing to rave about. The hot choco was pretty good, though.

The tour is P50/head and we were toured through the farm at the back of the diner. Our guide was very knowledgeable about the operations in the farm and about growing herbs and lettuce, which we asked a lot of questions about since we each had our own little container herb gardens at home. Note to self - bring an umbrella and sunblock! We walked to the end of the 8-hectare farm and I didn't really feel getting sunburned until I got home that night!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sonya's Garden, Tagaytay

This is my second time at Sonya's. The first time I was there, I didn't think it was a good value because I wasn't so much into salads then.

This time, however, I totally loved Sonya's! We had their set menu at P610/person.

They have a new dining area where it looked like you were eating inside a greenhouse. There were fern trees and vines about. The plates were Noritake and I loved the hand-embroidered table linen, which, according to Sonya's book, Sonya's Secret Garden, were bought from her suki in Vietnam. I found it sad that she had to go all the way to Vietnam just to buy these beautiful table linens because nobody embroiders like this here anymore.