DANCING WITH THE MUSIC

I am a proud Filipino, I love my country and I love my people, I believe in my new 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 2:00 PM 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 were 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, has 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 few weeks before, incoming President 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 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 demand was 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 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.

How the police can make a poor job of rescuing the hostages from a lone gunman is the niggling thought on everyone’s 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 fiberglass at one go and they used a rope to pull out the bus door and the rope snapped! To finally find out that there was an emergency door at the back. Of course, how stupid! 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.

After watching the sorry events that took almost 11 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, skepticism and anger. Even President Aquino's smiles during interviews and press conferences after the event were highly criticized.

I still believe that the Chinese people are 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 capabilities has never been stronger.

This is the most serious problem our nation’s facing at the moment; 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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