Hostage Taking in Philippines End in Tragedy

Manila, Philippines. After 12 hours of hostage taking drama, it all ends in tragedy. Some hostages were released early, some were killed, and some survived. Exact counts are not yet known as of this writing but what is really sad here is the deaths could have been prevented. The handling of the situation by was so poor by the local police that it is really sad and shameful. So many mistakes had been committed that I do not even know where to begin.

Quick backgrounder on the situation: On August 23, 2010, Monday, a discharged ex-police captain by the name of Rolando Mendoza took hostage of a bus in Manila, Philippines. The officer has been dismissed on grounds of possible drug charges. Charges he denies. Whatever, the case, the demands of the hostage taker are  that he wants his case reviewed and to be re-instated.

While the actions of the man is clearly misguided, the overall handling is really bad. The hostage taker already released hostages early in the day, mostly elderly and children. He asked for food and gas for the bus’s air conditioning. He gave a 3pm deadline but the deadline passed without incident.

At around 7pm-ish, the police arrested his brother and some relatives without cause in front of TV.  His brother was claiming that the police would harm him in revenge for his brother’s action. The hostage taker’s brother refused to move on the floor and claims he wants to either be let into bus to talk his brother down or be taken into custody of media for safety. The police eventually pulled him off the ground, cuffed him, and shoved him into a squad car.  They arrested him anyway on supposed charges of being an accomplice. At this development, the hostage taker went mad that they took his brother and proceeded to give a 5 minute window to return his brother who is being sent to a camp. When his brother’s release did not happen, he proceeded to kill a few hostages. Everything went downhill from there. SWAT tried to storm the bus after the driver slipped out but it was mostly failed attempts.

The event finished after finally throwing in tear gasses that prompted the suspect to made bad movements that led to him to being shot by a sniper.

What went wrong? Here are some of the gripes I had about the mishandling of the event.

1. During most of the day, the police failed to properly secure the area. It should have been properly cordoned off and people moved back. In failure of this, a bystander was shot by a stray bullet. Pure luck the bystander lives. Then at the end of the event after the hostage taker was shot, bystanders stormed the bus area and it was chaos. I am pretty sure this hindered the retrieval operations and movement of authorities.

2. Failure of Media Blackout. Where is it right that live broadcast of police actions, activities are broadcasted on mass media? The hostage taker has full access to police movement with clear video if he had a TV or a play-by-play guide if he is relying on radio.

3. Focusing on the brother who is not a threat. The police focused on arresting him in front of the media. I cannot understand why they spend so much focus and effort on a guy clinging to the ground who is in no way a threat to lives of hostages instead of focusing on the armed hostage taker in the bus? Whether the guy is really an accomplice or not, figure it out later. He is clearly not an immediate threat to the hostage’s lives. They should have focused on the bus and made efforts to investigate on the brother’s background and possible involvement. The wrong move of public arrest led to the hostage taker’s emotional outburst and killing hostages. Provoking the hostage taker does not make good sense. They should be tiring him out.

4. Half-hearted effort in storming the bus. When the bus driver escaped and told everyone that people are dead, police decided after maybe 10 mins to start assaulting the bus.  However, they just did over an hour of window smashing, door pulling (and failing) and poking around. They even failed to properly grip the smashing hammer and on several occasions throwing the hammer into the bus by accident. I would have thought that they should pop a few windows open, flashbang the place and stormed in. Should be quick and simple. Not an “hour long assault”.  And oh yea, the official excuse of not using teargas earlier was because they do not have gas masks. Sheesh, I am sure Hong Kong would have sent us gas masks over if they knew we needed them. LOL.

Argh, this is already a very long post. I just really feel bad for the hostages. Lives could have been saved if our authorities had been better prepared, better trained, and better led. This is a failure of all sorts and it will be the people and the nation that burdens the shame it brings to our country.

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