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!