MANILA, Philippines - A survivor in Monday's 12-hour hostage drama in Manila said the hostage-taker started shooting the hostages after he saw his brother's arrest on nationwide TV.
In a sworn affidavit, bus driver Alberto Lubang said hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza became very angry after he saw his brother, SPO2 Gregorio Mendoza, being carted away by police. The incident was aired live on major news broadcasts and was seen by the hostage-taker through a TV inside the bus.
Lubang, who escaped by picking the lock on his handcuff, was one of 25 people on a Manila tourist bus that was hijacked by Mendoza in a bid to be reinstated in the police force.
Before the hostage-taking incident, Mendoza was a bemedalled police officer who was removed from his job after being linked to an extortion case.
In his account, the 38-year-old bus driver said he was picking up his 24 passengers, mostly tourists from Hong Kong, at the Fort Santiago in Intramuros, Manila when Mendoza, clad in bullcap, camouflage pants and carrying several firearms, approached his vehicle and asked where they were headed.
He said Mendoza asked for a ride after learning that they were going to the airport. It was at Rizal Park when Mendoza announced: "Sorry, mga hostage ko na kayo ngayon (Sorry, you are all my hostages now)."
A tour guide, Dianna Chan, translated the hostage-taker's message to the 22 tourists, Lubang said.
Lubang said Mendoza handcuffed him to the steering wheel after reaching the Quirino Grandstand and said he would only hold the hostages until 3 p.m.
The hostage-taker also released 2 of the hostages after one of them complained of diarrhea.
Lubang said Mendoza initiated negotiations with Chief Inspector Romeo Salvador, whom the hostage-taker personally knew during his stint in Bicutan.
Referring to Salvador as "Bok", the hostage-taker told the negotiators that he merely wanted to call the government's attention to his motion asking for a review of his dismissal from the police force.
"Bok, yung lang kaso ko sa Ombudsman ang gusto kong madinig dito. Wag kayong mag-alala, wala namang mangyayari pag nasunod ang gusto ko. Pangako yan," Mendoza said while giving Salvador and Superintendent Orlando Yebra a folder full of documents.
Yebra acceded to Mendoza's request but asked that he release more hostages. The hostage-taker promptly released 3 kids and a woman hostage.
Lubang said Mendoza asked for food for the hostages but did not eat because he might end up feeling the need to go to the toilet. He said the food was brought in through the driver's side window.
During the early part of the negotiations, Mendoza cracked jokes and even talked to the media via cell phone. The hostage-taker, Lubang said, did not take calls from his family because he did not want to weaken his resolve.
At one point, Mendoza also saw Salvador stopping his brother, SPO2 Gregorio Mendoza, from approaching the bus. He then called Salvador and asked him to give back his brother's firearm, which was confiscated by police.
Mendoza's brother also convinced the hostage-taker to extend the 3 p.m. deadline while authorities worked on his case.
Saved by a cuticle remover
The bus driver said it was nearly dark when the 2 negotiators, along with Mendoza's brother, handed Mendoza a letter from the Ombudsman, promising the hostage-taker that his case would be reviewed in 10 days.
He said Mendoza read the letter and said: "Hindi ito ang hiling ko. Basura ito. Ibalik niyo to. Wala naman diyan ang gusto kong desisyon e (This isn't what I asked. This is garbage. Bring it back. It doesn't have the decision that I wanted)."
Lubang said the 2 negotiators tried to reason with the hostage-taker to no avail. He said Mendoza's demeanor changed when his brother blurted out: "Tol, yung baril ko di pa rin binibigay (They haven't returned my gun yet)."
The bus driver said Mendoza got mad after seeing his brother's arrest during a live newscast. The hostage-taker saw the arrest on a TV set inside the bus.
"I heard him shouting 'I will finish off all the hostages so you better release him,'" Lubang recounted.
He said Mendoza shot one of the tour guides who was handcuffed to a steel railing inside the bus. He then killed 2 more passengers who were only seated in the bus.
Lubang said he pleaded to the hostage-taker to release him but was told to start driving the bus. The bus had only gone a few feet when the police shot out the vehicle's front tires.
The bus driver said he used a cuticle remover on his keychain to open his handcuff while Mendoza was shooting inside the bus. He escaped by jumping out of the bus window and ran to waiting mediamen and police and told them: "Patay na lahat (Everyone is dead)."
An assault on the bus, however, later showed that 7 of the 15 remaining hostages on board the bus were still alive.
In a TV Patrol interview, Lubang said he was questioned repeatedly by police about the hostage incident after his escape. He admitted that he thought everyone inside the bus had died after he heard the shooting.
"Nakita ko kasi na binari na silang lahat...so akala ko patay na talaga," he said.
He also dispelled doubts that he was an accessory to the hostage-taking after his escape from the vehicle.
To the doubters, he said he still has the handcuff that he removed with the use of a cuticle remover.
David Dizon, ABS-CBN News