Disgruntled former Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza might have spared the lives of eight tourists who were killed during a police assault that ended the 12-hour hostage drama if only authorities had not manhandled the suspect's brother, the driver of the tourist bus revealed on Tuesday.
The revelation of Direction travel driver Alberto Lubang supports the analysis of Manila Judge Jimmy Santiago, a former chief of the Manila Police District Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team who had successfully handled several hostage-taking incidents in the past.
Lubang, who was among those who survived the bloody Monday hostage drama, recalled that the slain hostage-taker was very calm and cheerful toward his hostages the morning when the bemedalled former Manila Police District (MPD) official commandeered a busload of tourists from Hong Kong as captives.
Mendoza was apologetic
Mendoza, according to Lubang, even apologized to the tourists for seizing the tourist bus (TWU-799) and held them as hostages soon after they left the Manila Cathedral at around 9:30 a.m, Monday. Reports said that the tourists were on their way to the airport after an hour stroll in the area.
“Akala ko nun ay biro lang niya yun sa amin, maya-maya ay nagsalita na siya na iho-hostage lang kami hanggang alas-tres ng hapon,” the driver said in his five-page sworn affidavit.
The driver recounted that after the two women were freed, the policemen and media and other bystanders started coming in the area as Chief Inspector Romeo Salvador who is reportedly the suspect’s friend started negotiating with the suspect along with Supt. Rolando Yebra as the chief negotiator.
“Yung kaso ko sa Ombudsman ang gusto kong madinig dito, wag kayong mag-alala, wala naming mangyayari pag nasunod ang mga gusto ko, pangako yan,” Mendoza was also heard as saying.
Supt. Yebra assured the hostage-taker that he will immediately act on it but he demanded from the suspect to release some victims, which Mendoza agreed to. Mendoza later released three children and a woman.
“Kampante lang po siya wala po siyang sinaktan na pasahero ng mga oras na 'yun at paminsan-minsan ay nagagawa niyang magbiro, pero seryoso po siya sa kanyang pakay,” the driver also noted.
The mood of the hostage-taker, however, changed when he was informed by his brother that his gun was still confiscated by policemen, Mendoza started to get mad, the driver stressed. “Dito siya nagpaputok ng isang beses,” Lubang said as the three negotiators ran away from the bus.
“Lalo pang nagalit si Capt. Mendoza nung makita niya sa TV na pinoposasan na ang kapatid niya. Dun ko siya narinig na sumigaw na “Uubusin ko ang mga hostage, kaya dapat i-released nyo na iyan,” the driver said.
Hostage crisis expert’s view
From his Manila City Hall office, Judge Jimmy Santiago of Branch 12 of the Metropolitan Trial Court watched transfixed as Monday’s gripping hostage drama at the Rizal Park turned bloody and deadly as night fell.
Not only was the scenario being played out all too familiar with him, having been the chief of the Special Weapons and Tactics team (SWAT) of the Western Police District (now Manila Police District) from 1993 to 1998, the hostage-taker, Manila police Senior Insp. Rolando Mendoza, was a classmate at the Philippine College of Criminology.
“Mabait na tao ‘yon,” said Santiago, who was appointed to the MTC bench in 2006.
Arrest of Mendoza’s brother served as trigger
“Maganda naman noong umpisa, e,” he said. “May competent negotiators at nagpapakawala pa nga si Mendoza ng mga hostages. Pero noong inaresto iyong kapatid niya, tingin ko iyon ang nag-trigger. Kasi ang akala siguro noong hostage-taker ay minamaltrato iyong kapatid niya.
“Isa pa ay iyong taong kausap niya sa cell phone tapos niyang sabihin ng basura yung sulat na galing sa Ombudsman. Dapat sana ay na-pacify siya. That person should be investigated, whoever he is.”
Santiago made it clear, however, that Mendoza’s brother, Gregorio, reportedly also a policeman, had “violated rules on hostage situations” when he approached the parked bus in possession of his service firearm.
“Naturingan pa naman siyang pulis,” said Santiago, who retired from the force in 2001, practiced law for two years, and joined the prosecution service as a Manila assistant city prosecutor in 2003.
The lack of an efficient crowd control system was also evident, Santiago said.
“In every hostage situation dapat meron crisis management committee kung saan magde-designate ng negotiator, ground commander, at crowd control at media relations officer,” he said.
Ombudsman: Cop’s dismissal justified
The Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) said Tuesday that there was no injustice when it dismissed from the service hostage taker Manila Police Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza and four of his men in connection with extortion and robbery charges filed by a young hotel cook.
Assistant Ombudsman Jose de Jesus, Jr. told a news conference that Mendoza and the other respondents filed their joint motion for reconsideration (MR) out of time, or beyond the 10-day prescriptive period to answer the OMB verdict.
Nevertheless, he said Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and Law Enforcement Offices (MOLEO) Emilio Gonzales III accepted the MR and assigned the case to a new investigator to have a fresh look on the case.
The MOLEO resolved the motion and submitted it to Ombudsman Merceditas N. Gutierrez.
The case was still undergoing review by the lawyers assigned to Ms. Gutierrez for their recommendation when the bloodbath occurred at the Rizal Park the other day.
De Jesus revealed that while the hostage incident was ongoing, Manila Vice Mayor Isko Moreno met Gutierrez to relay Mendoza's demand, the dismissal of the case and reappointment to his old post.
Moreno then called Mendoza over the cellphone for him to talk to the OMB chief who assured him that she will personally look into it and resolve the case within 10 days.
The vice mayor asked Ms. Gutierrez to write a formal letter confirming their conversation which he brought to Mendoza that led to a release of another hostage out of his gratitude to Moreno. (With a report from Jun Ramirez)
Leonard Postrado & Tito Talao, Manila Bulletin