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The Height of Incompetence: Can Our Police Protect US?

August 23, 2010

Our national police is now in the international limelight. After the release of a number of “torture” videos online that exposed the

The hostage-taker. (Source: PDI)

The hostage-taker. (Source: PDI)

brand of police brutality in the Philippines, this time the country’s police force, whose primary duty is to protect the rights of both citizens and non-citizens, will surely face the wrath of the public and the international community for its failure to perform its job.

Most of us witnessed a heartbreaking hostage drama that ended with the loss of innocent lives and indubitably exposed the sheer incompetence of our police force, particularly the so-called Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team. The whole nation was shocked by a more than 10-hour hostage crisis after a dismissed police captain on August 23 took hostage of a busload of Hong Kong nationals at the Quirino grandstand. The hostage drama was sealed with the murder of a number of hostages. The 55-year-old hostage-taker, identified as Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza, was dead at the scene. Initial reports said that it was not clear whether there were survivors from those taken hostage by Mendoza.

The armalite-toting Mendoza was reported to have held some 25 people aboard a Hong Thai travel bus with plate number TUU-799. The hostage-taker’s primary motive was printed on a piece of paper for the world to see: “Big mistake to correct a big wrong decision.”

It was not really clear what the hostage-taker meant by this, but it appears that in the end, both sides—the police force and the hostage taker— committed a big mistake, as most of the victims could no longer see their families abroad. Sources said that the more than 20 passengers, aged 4 to 72, were scheduled to return to Hong Kong late Monday. Records show that Mendoza was dismissed from service and was stripped of his retirement benefits. He was also disqualified from holding any position in the government service.

According to an Inquirer report, the hostage-taking cop, despite being a recipient of an award as Jaycees International’s Ten Outstanding Policemen of the Philippines (TOPP) in 1986, was removed from police service earlier this year for extortion and for forcing a chef to swallow shabu.

Mendoza, along with other four policemen, was found guilty of grave misconduct for allegedly extorting P20,000 from a chef from Madarin Hotel named Christian Kalaw. Records reveal that the hostage-taker and other police officers accosted the chef for illegal parking, driving without license and use of illegal drugs two years ago in Manila. In order to make it appear that Kalaw committed the charges against him, Mendoza and his peers forced him to swallow a sachet full of shabu while they were trying to extort P20,000 from the chef at the headquarters of the Mobile Patrol Unit of the Manila Police District.

Here’s some personal information about Mendoza:

He was born on January 10, 1955 in Naic, Cavite. He has two sons and a daughter with wife Aurora, who are now based in Banadero, Tanauan, Batangas. He was supposed to retire next year. One of his sons, Bismarck, is deputy chief of the Bangued police station in Abra with a rank of inspector. He was reported to have taken a trip to Manila when he heard of the hostage-taking.

Mendoza graduated from the Philippine College of Criminology with a BS degree in Criminology.

He entered the PNP in April 1981 as a patrolman through the defunct Integrated National Police (INP). In January 1991, he was absorbed into the PNP with the rank of Senior Police Officer 3 with the Western Police District (WPD), now known as the Manila Police District. He was promoted to Inspector in May 2002 and as a Senior Inspector in August 2005.

In June 2008 a few months after Kalaw filed charges against him, Mendoza was shipped out to the provincial police office of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). But this reassignment never materialized as he served a 90-day suspension. (Source: PDI)

Later that day Malacañang palace appealed to Mendoza to “respect and honor the lives of people” who boarded the bus. A palace spokesperson told the press that President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III was informed about the situation and entrusted the matter to the police and local authorities who were well-prepared to handle the problem.

However, this latest hostage crisis reveals a lot of things about the poor security of the whole nation and the lack of efficiency of the police and military to protect both citizens and foreign nationals. Live video coverage clearly reveals that our police force wasn’t prepared to handle a situation like this. It’s even possible that the sheer incompetence of our police force put the lives of some people on that bus in danger.

Our police miserably failed this “audition”. This means that any rebel or separatist group can easily topple our government anytime now. I’m very much sure that the rebels and the moro separatists and their sympathizers now have a field day after learning that our police force can’t even properly handle a lone hostage-taker who had some personal grievances against the government.

Indeed, this hostage crisis reveals the following problems concerning our police force:

  1. Lack of discipline in our police force. This latest hostage crisis coupled with the ‘police brutality’ videos online clearly shows that some, if not most, of our police force are morally decadent.
  2. Poor training on the part of the country’s SWAT team. It’s a shame that the so-called highly trained SWAT team members miserably failed in their duty to protect the hostages.
  3. Lack of order prior to the negotiation and after the hostage crisis. The police should have set up police line tape so that bystanders and onlookers would be barred from entering the scene. Live video coverage shows that onlookers/gawkers braved the rain only to rush to the crime scene. These stupid, annoying gawkers should not have been allowed to enter the scene. The presence of some stupid gawkers at the scene somehow obstructed medics from rescuing the heavily wounded hostage victims.
  4. Those who ordered the arrest of the hostage-taker’s family/relatives must be held responsible. What they did is a clear violation of the rights of those innocent family members who did not consent to or had no knowledge of the crime of the hostage-taker. The authorities/official(2) who ordered this is/are so stupid. They must also be held accountable.
  5. But the most visible problem arising from this tragic hostage drama is the downright ineptitude, inefficiency, lack of skill, clumsiness, and amateurishness of our police force. The loss of so much lives could have been prevented had the police made the right move. The hostage-taker was a rights-violator. Our police should have not prolonged the negotiation with the hostage-taker after detecting that the latter was hostile and had no intention to surrender to authorities. They should have dealt with the hostage-taker accordingly after he intimated his strong refusal to release his hostages and to peacefully concede to police authorities. Our police force should have primarily focused on the security and safety of the innocent victims. The hostage-taker, being the initiator of force, had no rights whatsoever.
  6. Another disgusting, shameful fact about this Grandstand hostage crisis is the virtual absence of President Benigno Aquino. Online reports revealed that Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Donald Tsang said that the Philippine President was out of reach, and urged Philippine authorities to give a full account of the crisis. “I tried to contact the Philippine president this afternoon, hoping to put to him in person the request to take the safety of the hostages as the top priority. However, I am still unable to get hold of him,” Tsang said. Where was our dear President hiding? As the primary representative of the country, Mr. Aquino should have made himself readily available to the head of Hong Kong to provide full account of the hostage crisis. Is this another sign of extreme incompetence on the part of our chief executive?

This tragedy should give our police authorities a handful of lessons. How can we attract more tourists to come to our country if some of our police officers are torturers and non-respecters of people’s rights? How can we attract more foreign investors if some people in the police force and in the government sector are the ones who blatantly violate the law and shamelessly abuse their position? Our police force should save its face by showing that its members are not only good at extortion, torture, or any other illegal activities. The only role of the police is to protect us against criminals.

This bloody incident that resulted in the loss of several lives could have been prevented had the government established a strong rule of law.  The hostage-taker should have been jailed for violating the rights of a citizen a couple of years ago. We need a strong rule of law to punish those who abuse their public position and to prevent any similar incident from happening in the future.

If our police force could no longer protect us, then we all have the moral responsibility to arm ourselves.

Update:

The Hong Kong issued its top-level black travel alert for the Philippines on Monday after several Hong Kong tourists were killed in Manila in a bus hijack by an armed ex-policeman.

“A serious kidnap incident happened in the Philippines. Hong Kong residents should avoid all travel to the country,” a government spokesperson said in a statement.

“Those who are already there should attend to their personal safety and exercise caution.”

The Hong Kong government also said on Monday it would charter two flights to Manila for families of tourists held hostage in an 11-hour drama. (Source: Agence France-Presse)

In a related report, Hong Kong’s leader Donald Tsang criticised the handling of a hostage crisis, saying the way the police handled the situation was “disappointing.”

“It is most regretable,” said Tsang who appeared close to tears during a press conference. “The way it was handled, particularly the outcome, I find is disappointing,” said Tsang.

Others in Hong Kong reacted with shock and some anger after what appeared to an ineffective rescue operation, with thousands glued to their television sets as live footage of the hostage drama played on local television for much of the day.

“It’s a tragedy and a farce,” said Kevin Chan, a Hong Kong resident. “Why did it take them so long to get into the bus? They’re not well disciplined and trained. Are they crazy?”

Another Hong Kong resident Sunny Ho said things could have been handled through calmer negotiations rather than brute force.

“It’s really tragic, the Philippine police and government are totally incompetent. The government should have agreed to the request of the gunman and rescued the people first!” Ho said.

Meanwhile, a survivor who identified herself as Mrs Leung told reporters that her husband was murdered as he tried to stop the hostage-taker from attacking other passengers on their tour bus in Manila. Mrs Leung accused the police authorities of acting too late and turning a blind eye to their ordeal.

“It’s too late. Why were there no one to help us after so many hours?” she said at the scene of the siege, in comments broadcast on Hong Kong’s Cable TV. “There were so many people on the bus – no one came to our rescue. Why? For money? Sacrificing so many lives for money? We were in fear for so many hours. I find it really cruel.”

The survivor said her husband sacrificed himself for others on the bus. “I actually really wanted to die with him. But I think of my children.”

“I miss him,” she said in tears.

Timeline of the Bus Hostage Drama:

10:00 a.m. — Police received a report that former senior inspector Rolando D. Mendoza commandeered the Hong Thai travel bus with license plate TUU 799 bus with an M-16 rifle and several short firearms. Twenty five people were onboard the bus — 21 Hong Kong nationals and four Filipinos. The bus came from nearby Fort Santiago and parked near the Quirino Grandstand for the passengers to have lunch.

Few minutes later— Hostage-taker released two women: Diana Chan and an unidentified friend.

10:30 a.m. –Mr. Mendoza released four more hostages, Tsang Yee Lai, 40; her two children, Fu Chung Yin, 4, and Fu Chak Yin, 10; and a family friend, Wong Ching Yat Jason, 12. Around this time, Senior Police Officer 2 Gregorio D. Mendoza, a brother of the hostage-taker who is also a policeman, asked permission from the authorities to let him negotiate with his brother but his request was denied.

Minutes before noon — A seventh hostage was released, Lee See Kyu, 73.

Minutes before 1 p.m. — A gallon of gasoline was loaded into the bus as per request of Mr. Mendoza. Packed meals for the hostages were also distributed.

2:19 p.m. –The eight hostage, Rigor Cruz, a Filipino and the assistant photographer for the trip was released. Around this time, the Philippine National Police (PNP) assigned Superintendent Orlando Yebra and Chief Inspector Romeo Salvador to negotiate with Mr. Mendoza. The Manila city government also set up a crisis management led by Vice-Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso.

4:37 p.m. — Danilo Medril, another Filipino photographer on board the tourist bus, was released.

4:45 p.m. — Food and drinks were loaded into the bus.

6:20 p.m. — The negotiators, this time with Mendoza’s brother Gregorio, handed over a notice to the hostage taker from the Office of the Ombudsman promising an immediate review of his ouster case. Mr. Mendoza refused to accept the offer as it only said reopening of his case. He asked for a formal dismissal of his case.

Around 6: 30 p.m. –Two gunshots were heard from the bus. Over a radio interview, Mr. Mendoza threatened to kill the hostages if the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) would not vacate the area.

7:07 p.m. — Mr. Mendoza reiterated to kill all hostages left in the bus, all 15 people. He refused to talk to any of his family members.

7:30 p.m. — Alberto Lubang, the driver of the bus, was released. He later told the police that all of the hostages in the bus were shot dead.

7:37 p.m. — The police assault team started to surround the bus. They started to smash the main entrance door and front windshield of the bus with a mallet. SWAT members were able to penetrate the bus through the emergency door but Mr. Mendoza fired at them.One official was reported injured while a civilian bystander, a woman, was hit by a stray bullet.

8:40 p.m.— SWAT members threw a teargas into the bus through a side window.

8:41 p.m. — Gunshots were heard. Minutes later eight Hong Kong nationals came out from the bus alive while some bodies were lifted out from the bus.

9:19 p.m. — A radio report said five hostages were brought to the Manila Doctor’s Hospital. Four of them were dead, two women and two men. One man underwent surgery.

10:30 p.m. — Two Hong Kong nationals, were transferred to Manila Doctor’s Hospital from Ospital ng Maynila.

Around 11:00 p.m. –In a press briefing, Health Secretary Enrique T. Ona said the hostage crisis killed nine, including the hostage-taker, and injured eight others.

(Source: Business World)

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Jake permalink
    August 23, 2010 3:38

    Truly, those Filino police who participated in the rescuing Hong Kong hostage are extremely unimpressive and now becoming an international laugher stock.

    http://viewlogy.net/rolando-mendozahostage-taking-drama-shows-filipino-police-incompetence/678/

  2. Ted Harlson permalink
    August 23, 2010 3:38

    What a sad state of affairs. The good point is your identification of the underlying cause of the problem(s) with the Philippine security forces. Without identification, there can be no steps toward change.

    Just as a doctor cannot diagnose a problem or sickness unless he actually looks at the problem then rationally assese it, so facing the internal problems of Philippine security forces is a logical first step.

    Since honesty is an aspect of rationality, the lack of honesty in the police / political process must be corrected by a more rational process. It’s a matter of courageous citizens and better leaders standing up.

    Until then, be thankful Filipino’s have the right to bear arms for their own safety and security.

    • August 23, 2010 3:38

      Yes, Ted, it’s the lack of honesty in the police and political process. There are a lot of laws here against public officers who engage in corrupt practices and illegal activities but the problem is political will and proper enforcement.

  3. cho Nananene permalink
    August 24, 2010 3:38

    Thanks Vincenton Post for the most detailed news. I had read all all of this Hostage-Taker news but never got it all clear after reading your piece.

  4. Jeff h. permalink
    August 25, 2010 3:38

    Zzzzzzzz……this is new? Police ineptitude has long been an issue in third world countries, especially the Philippines. And it will be long after you and me are gone. Don’t worry, the nice beaches will still get tourists to go to the Philippines. This will soon blow over in a few months, then you’ll realizethat you’ve wasted your time writing some stupid shit everyone else already knew.

    • September 5, 2010 3:38

      While that is the case, in the eyes of the world, our reputation as a tourist hub has taken terrible, terrible damage. Expect empty beaches and the economy going far south.

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