MANILA Police District director Chief Supt. Rodolfo Magtibay took full responsibility Wednesday for a botched rescue attempt that left eight Hong Kong tourists dead Monday, and offered to go on leave while the government investigates the incident.
At the same time, four leaders of the SWAT team that stormed the bus have been relieved, while some 200 team members were grounded.
“As they say, the buck stops with me,” Magtibay said as he held a press briefing at the office of Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim.
Magtibay said he offered to go on leave to give investigators a free hand in conducting an impartial probe of the incident.
But he said his offer did not mean an admission of improper action during the rescue operation.
Magtibay, who was the ground commander in the hostage crisis, said he accepted the recommendations of his staff on how to deal with the situation and studied them carefully.
He also acknowledged that whatever the outcome of the situation, he would be responsible and answerable.
“I can tell you, I acted in good faith. If something happens, I am ready to face the music. I will not blame anybody,” he said.
He recalled that around 7:30 p.m., they heard shots from inside the bus and driver Alberto Lubang rushed to them and reported that former Capt. Rolando Mendoza had started shooting the hostages.
“In our estimate, less than 10 shots were fired, so I was thinking there were survivors,’’ Magtibay told reporters.
“And it is my duty as overall ground commander, the task group commander of the critical incident management task group, to save the lives of the hostages, and to bring the injured to hospitals, and to order the assault on the bus.”
Unfortunately, he said, they were unable to save all the hostages.
The National Police was reviewing the incident, he said.
The SWAT team leaders Chief Inspector Santiago Pascual, Senior Police Officer 4 Reynaldo Antonio, SPO3 Alfonso Gameng, and SPO2 Bernardo Espinosa were relieved as part of the investigation process, and not for any infractions, he said.
The four were part of the team that stormed the bus.
All 200 members of the Manila Police District SWAT team were grounded and ordered to submit their firearms for ballistics examination.
Hostage negotiator Supt. Orlando Yebra said the hostage taker turned violent when he didn’t get what he wanted—an exoneration from the Office of the Ombudsman and his immediate reinstatement.
He said the stories on his being sacked for extortion and the live coverage of his brother’s arrest also agitated him.
Police said Mendoza’s brother, Gregorio, a traffic policeman, entered the cordoned area in civilian clothes, armed with his service pistol. His arrest was broadcast live on TV.
An analyst for Pacific Strategies & Assessments, Peter Troilo, who watched the hostage drama unfold on TV, said the incident highlighted how poorly equipped the police were.
Herman Joseph Kraft, executive director of the Institute of Strategic and Development Studies, said the problem was systemic.
“The Manila police department is supposed to be the largest in the Philippines, the best trained and best equipped. You could see how far below standard it falls.”
The tourist deaths underscored the risks of traveling and working in a country that ranked 130th out of 149 in the Global Peace Index, which weighs factors such as violent crimes, access to weapons and political instability.
Seven foreign chambers of commerce asked the government in May to rescind an order to publish the names of top taxpayers on safety concerns.
“Security and safety are major concerns of many expatriates working in the Philippines,” the letter said, adding the disclosures may bring a return of “brazen abductions” that were “rampant just a few years ago.”
Macon Ramos-Araneta, Manila Standard Today