A Philippine anti-corruption official accused of extorting money from the sacked policeman who triggered last month's bloodbath in Manila has refused to testify about the allegation.
Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez said she and her deputy, Emilio Gonzales, are turning down an invitation to attend a hearing on the August 23 hijacking, in which eight Hong Kong tourists and hijacker Rolando Mendoza were killed.
"We may not be able to compel them because we do not have coercive powers," Justice Secretary Leila de Lima told a hearing of the special investigative body she heads.
Policemen involved in the crisis earlier testified they overheard Mendoza, 55, accuse Gonzales of trying to extort money from him. Mendoza had been fired by the Ombudsman's office for graft, and, in an attempt to get his job back, hijacked a bus carrying 22 tourists, triggering an 11-hour standoff that ended in a bungled police rescue and bloodshed.
"If anyone dies here, it will be your fault," Mendoza had told Gonzales in a phone call, officers said.
Gonzales has previously denied Mendoza's accusations in several interviews with the press.
De Lima said the probe body had renewed its invitation to Gutierrez and Gonzales to testify, after they had initially declined previous invitations, citing the independence of the Ombudsman's office.
During yesterday's hearing, the policeman who spoke to Mendoza during the crisis admitted police did not have an official hostage negotiation team. Superintendent Orlando Yebra said he was normally deployed as the legal officer of the Manila police district but acted as its chief hostage negotiator when required. "There is no negotiation unit yet. I proposed ... the creation of that already," he said, but his seniors had failed to act on his suggestion.
Also testifying was the gunman's brother, police officer Gregorio Mendoza. He denied urging his brother not to surrender during the crisis. But the younger Mendoza, who is charged with obstructing the negotiators, was evasive when asked why he panicked when police tried to make him leave the scene. Officials said his resistance apparently enraged his brother, and caused him to start shooting.
Meanwhile, Philippine investigators arrived in Hong Kong yesterday and met with police. Arrangements are being made to interview survivors. Police returned to the team three mobile phones mistakenly given to Hong Kong. One was used by Mendoza.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE AND STAFF REPORTER