MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang defended itself from criticisms that it was wanting from handling the hostage situation last Monday, noting it allowed “experts” to deal with the crisis.
In a press conference, Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said “we left the [situation] to the experts, but at the same time we were monitoring the incident, you just did not see us out in the open.”
He said “mere absence does not mean we did not give importance to the situation.”
The government is bearing the brunt of criticisms here and abroad after the almost 12-hour bus siege on Monday ended in the death of 8 Hong
Kong residents and the gunman himself, former senior police inspector Rolando Mendoza.
House Deputy Speaker Jesus Crispin Remulla, for example, condemned the government’s “lack of crisis management instincts.”
Over at social networks in the Internet, the 2-month-old administration received criticisms that ranged from the absurd to the serious ones.
Lacierda, however, said the experts were on top of the situation, having been trained by no less than the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
“There were just matters that complicated the situation,” he said, noting that there were “lapses” too in the police tactics.
President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III himself was not far from the area when the incident was happening, he said.
After the incident, the president immediately went to the scene of the crime and discussed matters with the police, he said.
Aquino even called for a meeting with the Cabinet members before facing the media, he said.
HK officials satisfied
Lacierda said the incident should not be considered a “black-eye,” noting “it’s something we never expected…it’s a learning experience.”
He said the administration is now doing its best to temper the backlash that have snowballed following what some call a bungled police operation.
The administration has already extended all assistance it could give, he said.
He asked the public to wait for the results of the investigation before they come out with their conclusions.
As such, “the recommendations will also be tackled [subsequently].” Some are suggesting that the police involved in the incident be relieved from their posts.
He said the president has also talked to Chinese and Hong Kong officials and explained the situation to them.
“I got to talk to their Undersecretary for Security last night…they are satisfied that the government is doing its best,” he said.
No discrimination in HK
But while the government has insisted it is now on top of the situation, reports have it that Filipinos abroad may face the backlash caused by the hostage crisis.
No less than former President Joseph Estrada cancelled his trip to Hong Kong for fear he would be receiving the ire of the residents there.
While Lacierda refused to comment on Estrada’s actions, he recognized the “fears” felt by Filipinos working there.
Hong Kong is a major labor market for the Philippines. About 152,000 are currently working there, a big chunk are working on a contract.
Lacierda, however, said the official he got to talk to “also made a commitment to make sure that Filipinos will be taken cared of.”
He said the administration is now completing the delegation that will proceed to Hong Kong in the next few days.
The delegation, composed of “high-level officials,” will attempt to reinforce ties between the country and Hong Kong.
Asked if the government is prepared of possible legal actions, Lacierda said: “Right now, there’s no discussion on that. What we’re concerned about, is to extend our assistance.”
Meanwhile, the government is also arranging dialogues with the members of the media, who had been blamed for jeopardizing police operations.
“It’s more of a dialogue on how to handle such kinds of situations,” Lacierda said.
It will be about protocols and how media “can help remedy the situation,” he said.
“Let’s arrive at a [consensus] on what could be reported [right then and there] during a hostage situation,” he said.
Cebu Rep. Luis Quisumbing had filed House Bill No. 2737 that proposes a news blackout during a hostage crisis.
In an interview with ANC on Wednesday morning, he clarified the prohibition only covers the movements of military or police assets during such situations.
“This is not an issue of censorship, it’s more of public safety,” he said.
Ira Pedrasa, ABS-CBN News