Monday, August 23, 2010

Hostage taking of a Manila Tourist Bus

This is one hostage situation that reminded me of Manila Bulletin columnist Joe Guevara’s interpolation of the SWAT acronym for the Philippine Police and military.  He said it should stand for, “Simple Weapons ‘Alang ‘(no) Tactics.  This is what exactly what the police displayed when they decided to storm the tourist bus held hostage by a lone hostage taker.  The hostage taker is a dismissed captain (chief inspector) of the police force.

The hostage taker, former police Chief Inspector Rolando Mendoza, is a respected person/officer and interviews of people who know him say he is a nice and kind person.  News coverage showed that he received many commendations and was one of top ten outstanding policemen a few years back.  So he is a Rambo-like disgruntled police officer and his only demand was to be reinstated or retired with full benefits.

The story of negotiations started with ‘expert’ negotiators.  The only thing they were able to do is provide some fuel and food as demanded by Mendoza.  With that, he released a few hostages.  Then, out of nowhere, man approached the hostage bus who the police immediately arrested.  He came out to be the brother of Rolando Mendoza, also a police officer.  They used him also in negotiations but to no avail.  Not long after, a commotion came up with the hostage takers brother running out from where he was confined with policemen.  He claimed that he was being charged as accessory to the crime and fears for his life!  A drama ensued with members of his family surrounding and embracing him so he could not be taken by the police.  All the time, the drama was being shown on television which was also being watched by the hostage taker!

Let’s say the police used this strategy because the hostage taker is a nice and kind person who would not want his brother to be in the same mess.  Authorities were looking on the soft side of the hostage taker to give up.  The problem is they did not look at the other side of Mendoza!  They should have considered there is a Rambo in him!  What he saw and watched on television was exactly the same what authorities had done to him!  Anyone, maybe just about anyone, who sees the same injustice being done to a blood relative, will be enraged!  He fired some shots but maybe not to injure or kill a hostage.  Some time after he fired the shots, the bus driver was seen running from the bus.  He claimed to have escaped because “no one was longer alive in the bus” as quoted by some reporter on television. (Belated news:  According to a survivor Mendoza went berserk but did not mention at what point it happened)

This could have been the point the police decided to storm the bus.  The scenario of police approaching the bus was ridiculous!  It simply showed they had no plans on how to gain entry and neutralize the hostage taker!  They used heavy sledge hammers to smash some windows and the bus door.  They were only able to punch holes in them!  They did not even know how to open the bus door!  It was hours before they learned that the bus door is hydraulically operated!  They even tried to pull the door open with a rope pulled by a vehicle.  The rope snapped.  In between these attempts, there some shots fired from inside the bus but there were more coming from snipers.  The event looked like “hide-and-seek” by those storming the bus.

Going back to earlier shots, if Mendoza really shot some hostages, the others would have panicked after the first ones were shot, right?  Anyone in that imminent danger would do anything – shout, wave, bang on windows – anything to save them from the onslaught!  There was no commotion at all inside the bus when shots were fired inside.  It is possible that the bus driver’s message was just a ploy by the hostage taker to make authorities aware he was not giving up in spite of what they were going to do with his brother!

With the calm and quiet in the bus, authorities presumed that all the hostages were dead and no further harm could happen to them.  It was believable, adding the message of the bus driver to that!  The televised event showed police hurling tear gas and flash bang inside the bus.  Nothing happened.  Some of them even threw those carelessly and immediately bounced back to them!  OMG!  What incompetence!  When police were able to open the emergency doors, their attempts to enter were unsuccessful.  Mendoza would give them a burst of rapid fire.  He could have easily shot and killed some of the policemen but he did not.

In the end, probably when Rolando Mendoza was overcome by tear gas, he was seen by a sniper near the front door and took him out.  The hostage taking was over and there were still some hostages that survived.  Yes, the bus driver gave a message probably relayed by Mendoza, if not, an excuse of abandoning the ship of which he is the captain.

The demands of Rolando Mendoza were simple and could have been easily arranged with him or maybe even given.  The question is: Why were tactics and strategies used without studying them?  There was no deadline to be met!  Why did not even one of the authorities know that the bus had hydraulically operated doors and had an emergency door?  Why did they punch holes in so many windows?  A single hole where tear gas and flash bang would fit is enough and the effects would be much quicker without the ventilation they created!  They had to throw in so many!

To give justice to victims as the rescue done has many questions, there should be ballistic tests done on the bullets that killed the victims.  It is possible that sniper shots, before the last one that took out Mendoza, would have hit the hostages instead.  With the accuracy of the last sniper, there is no question that the earlier snipers also hit their targets but not Mendoza.

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