MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE)- Manila Police District head Chief Superintendent Rodolfo Magtibay, who ordered the ill-fated police assault on hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza, was relieved from his post Wednesday.
Philippine National Police (PNP) Director-General Jesus Verzosa signed Magtibay’s relief orders, according to Director Leocadio Santiago, National Capital Region Police Office chief.
Senior Superintendent Frank Villaroman, PNP Region 12 deputy regional director for operations, will replace Magtibay, Santiago said.
Magtibay was earlier reported to have offered to go on a leave of absence while an internal police investigation is ongoing. The relieved Manila police chief was the ground commander during the hostage-taking crisis.
The PNP leadership earlier suspended 4 other police officers over the hostage crisis that left eight Hong Kong tourists dead, amid outrage over a myriad of mistakes in the chaotic end to the stand-off.
The suspensions came on a national day of mourning to remember the victims of Monday's ordeal, which began when an ex-policemen hijacked a busload of Hong Kong tourists in a desperate bid to be exonerated of extortion charges.
President Benigno Aquino III ordered flags in all government offices to fly at half mast, but anger both in the Philippines and Hong Kong over the handling of the crisis largely overshadowed the gesture.
National police spokesman Senior Superintendent Agrimero Cruz told reporters that the 4 officers who were suspended had led the 200-strong Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team in attempting to storm the bus.
Cruz said they were suspended so they "did not exert undue influence" in a police investigation into the affair.
The national police force had already admitted in a statement to key mistakes in handling the 12-hour hostage drama.
These included poor negotiations with hijacker Rolando Mendoza, inadequate equipment for the SWAT team, allowing the media to roam around the hostage site and bad crowd control.
The tragedy unfolded live on television, allowing people around the world to watch as the commandos failed to get into the bus for more than an hour after smashing its windows with sledgehammers.
In another apparent mistake, police failed to take the opportunity to shoot Mendoza at one point when he opened the door of the bus and peered out.
Nevertheless Cruz said the tidal wave of anger being directed at the police force was "unfair".
"They (critics) are all in the gallery, watching. They should try being in the line of fire and let us see how they react," he told AFP.
In his briefing to reporters, Cruz said at least 59 empty shells from Mendoza's M-16 assault rifle and 31 from two other small firearms he was carrying were recovered inside the wreckage of the bus.
Autopsies on five of the victims showed they died from gunshots mostly in the head and neck.
But Cruz said it remained too early to say whether the victims had been shot by Mendoza or the police.
He promised the results of the internal police investigation would be released.
"We are conducting this in a very transparent manner," Cruz said.
Bashing on Facebook
Aquino has ordered a government inquiry on top of the internal police probe, and promised to fully inform the Hong Kong authorities of the results. But the president's official Faceook page has been inundated with angry messages.
"Shame on you and your government. Tender your resignation now," wrote Elfis Lee, a Hong Kong resident. "Your incompetence of leading your untrained stupid police force caused such a tragedy."
In another effort to ease tensions in Hong Kong, Aquino has formed a high-level delegation that will soon travel to the Chinese territory to brief authorities there.
Manila's consul general to Hong Kong, Claro Cristobal, said he expected vigils and protest marches that could come to a head late Wednesday when the survivors and the remains of the eight are due to be flown back.
He said at least one domestic helper had already complained that her angry bosses had fired her in protest at the hostage deaths.
There are as many as 200,000 Filipinos living in Hong Kong, the vast majority of them working as maids.
Elizabeth Tang, chief executive of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, said "we're worried about people venting their anger and frustration against domestic helpers". – with a report from Jason Gutierrez, Agence France Presse