August 25, 2010, 9:54pm
The Philippine National Police (PNP) announced Wednesday the relief of Chief Superintendent Rodolfo Magtibay as the district director of the Manila Police District (MPD), hours after he assumed full responsibility on the Luneta hostage-taking fiasco and offered an indefinite leave of absence pending the result of the investigation on the incident.
Police Director Leocadio Santiago, chief of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO), confirmed the sacking of Magtibay and said that the decision stemmed from the controversy over the bloody hostage drama in Manila on Monday that left dismissed Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza and eight of his foreign hostages dead.
The relief order, Santiago said, takes effect Thursday, with Senior Superintendent Francisco Villaroman, the deputy commander of the Directorate for Integrated Police Operations-Eastern Mindanao, named as Magtibay’s replacement.
“That is the decision made by the President (Benigno Aquino III) and the Chief of the Philippine National Police (Director General Jesus Verzosa) to give way for an impartial investigation,” Santiago told the Manila Bulletin in a phone interview.
Magtibay’s relief was also confirmed by Senior Superintendent Agrimero Cruz, Jr., PNP spokesman, who said that Verzosa thought it proper to remove him as MPD chief as part of their effort for a transparent investigation of the alleged myriads of blunders committed by the police in handling the hostage drama.
The relief of Magtibay brings to five the total number of police officials sacked over the botched negotiation and rescue operations of foreign hostages inside a tourist bus parked in front of the Quirino Grandstand.
Hours earlier, the PNP leadership announced the relief of Chief Inspector Santiago Pascual, chief of the MPD-Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) and three other team leaders of the SWAT assault team that carried out the controversial rescue operations.
The three SWAT team leaders were identified as Senior Police Officer 4 Reynaldo Antonio, Senior Police Officer 3 Alfonso Gameng and Senior Police Officer 2 Bernardo Espinosa.
The rest of the 200 policemen who were deployed in Luneta during the hostage drama were also ordered to surrender their firearms for ballistic examination and be available to surface during the conduct of the investigation.
Cruz said the relief of the four SWAT team leaders, and later Magtibay, is to ensure that will not be able to exert undue influence on the conduct of the investigation.
During the first meeting of the Post Crisis Investigation and Management Committee (PCIMC) headed by Verzosa, Magtibay offered to go on leave before he gave a briefing of the full account of what happened on Monday.
“He offered to go on leave pending the result of the investigation, or as long as it takes. At the outset before he conducted his briefing, he offered immediately his intention,” said Senior Superintendent Agrimero Cruz, Jr., PNP spokesman.
“He was citing personal reasons, he was reacting to news reports and other comments from the public,” added Cruz, when asked of the reasons cited by Magtibay in voluntarily relieving himself as MPD director.
During the briefing, Cruz quoted Magtibay as saying that he assumed full responsibility of the outcome of the botched rescue operations.
“He said he gave the assault order and assumes full responsibility for it. He said the situation that was ongoing during that time warranted for a hasty assault,” said Cruz who was present during Wednesday’s first meeting of the Post Crisis Investigation Management Committee which is investigating the incident.
Cruz said Magtibay told the PCIMC officials led by Verzosa that he ordered the assault after the driver escaped and started shouting that all the remaining people on board are all dead.
It was recalled that driver was handcuffed on the steering wheel but was able to escape after a short lull from the shooting rampage conducted by Mendoza.
While Verzosa told Magtibay that his decision to go on leave will still be deliberated by the PNP top brass and the Department of the Interior and Local Government, everything suddenly changed when President Aquino was quoted saying that the MPD’s leave of absence should be accepted.
Santiago said the decision to relieve Magtibay came from the Office of the Chief PNP, along with another order designating Villaroman as his replacement.
“The Chief PNP is the only person authorized to relieve an officer with a rank of general,” said Santiago.
The official said Magtibay will be temporarily assigned in his office at the NCRPO and will also be part of the PCIMC, being the ground commander during the 11-hour hostage drama.
Asked if Magtibay will still be re-appointed as MPD chief should the investigation clears him, Santiago said: “It depends if he will still be recommended by the SOPPB (Senior Officers Placement and Promotion Board).”