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Eight deadly blunders

Mary Ann Benitez

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

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Eight blunders were spelled out yesterday in the Manila tourist bus bloodbath in which eight Hongkongers died.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino released an investigation report into the botched rescue attempt that revealed a chain of faulty decisions and omissions by Philippine government officials.

The fact-finding panel recommended that 12 people, including the Manila mayor, the national police chief and the government's chief watchdog, face criminal or civil charges.

Part of the report was uploaded yesterday on the government's website. The complete report will be released after Aquino's legal counsel have made recommendations on the committee's suggestions. A copy of the report was handed to the Chinese ambassador, Liu Jianchao, in Manila on Sunday.

It listed eight "critical incidents" that affected the final outcome of the botched rescue on August 23.

Among them were the arrest of gunman Rolando Mendoza's brother, which was the event that led Mendoza to shoot his hostages, and the departure of Manila mayor Alfredo Lim and the ground commander, General Rodolfo Magtibay, from the advance command post to eat at a restaurant at a crucial time.

The report said Lim also did not properly activate the Crisis Management Committee and so negotiators and rescuers failed to receive critical intelligence to make informed judgments.

"Intelligence gathering and delivery to the proper officials was virtually nil," it said.

There was "a total lack of a genuinely serious and well-planned-out negotiation strategy" throughout the 11-hour siege.

"Everything depended on the vice mayor's trip to the Ombudsman," it said, referring to Francisco Moreno, the deputy of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, who she sent to relay the gunman's demands. Moreno as well as Gutierrez and deputy ombudsman Emilio Gonzalez were blamed by the committee.

Foremost among the blunders was "the clear and patent display of insubordination" by Magtibay when he failed to follow categorical orders from Aquino to use the PNP Special Action Force Crisis Response Group for the bus assault.

The crisis managers failed to properly appreciate the nature of the demands of the gunman, who wanted to be reinstated but was offered only a review of the extortion case against him.

When the initial talks broke down as a result of the ombudsman's action, officials failed to resolve the crisis by their "acts, omissions and reactions."

Another critical incident was the arrest of Gregorio Mendoza, the gunman's brother, upon orders of Lim. "Viewed in perspective, this was the proximate cause of the chain of events that led to Mendoza's shooting at the hostages."

There was also no organized post- assault plan.

When the bus was cleared and ambulances were allowed in, one ambulance opened its back door to reveal TV cameramen on board. Apart from Magtibay, those being blamed for the fiasco include then-Philippine National Police chief Jesus Verzosa, National Capital Region Police chief Leocadio Santiago, hostage negotiator Superintendent Orlando Yebra and Chief Inspector Santiago Pascual, head of the Special Weapons and Tactics team.

A friend of Aquino, Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno, was also held accountable as he was the Cabinet official directly responsible for the Philippine National Police.

Two reporters, TV5's Erwin Tulfo and Radio Mo Nationwide's Michael Rogas, were also assigned blame. Three broadcast networks were also to blame, but were not identified.

The 83-page report, with 10 volumes of annexes, was prepared by the Incident Investigation and Review Committee chaired by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.

The Hong Kong government last night applauded the Philippine committee for confronting critical issues and demonstrating its "sincere efforts in working against time and relative physical constraints."


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