MANILA, Philippines - Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim yesterday admitted ordering the Manila Police District (MPD) to “handcuff” the brother of slain hostage taker Rolando Mendoza, but only to “restrain his movements.”
Lim denied ordering the MPD to arrest SPO2 Gregorio Mendoza on suspicion that he was agitating his brother, a dismissed senior inspector, during the hostage crisis.
“I ordered them to handcuff him, but there was no order to make an arrest,” Lim told a press conference at the Manila City Hall.
Lim, a former Manila police chief, insisted that there was a big difference between ordering to “handcuff” and ordering the arrest of Gregorio.
The mayor issued the clarification amid criticim that Gregorio’s arrest triggered Mendoza’s shooting spree, which ended in the deaths of eight hostages.
Gregorio had told the press that he feared for his safety and tried to flee when he was ordered arrested and brought to a van. The commotion was seen on TV by Mendoza.
The mayor said Gregorio was supposed to help them persuade the hostage taker to accept the offer of the Ombudsman to review the extortion case that led to Rolando Mendoza’s dismissal from the police service.
Lim said Gregorio failed to play the role, forcing him to order the MPD to restrain and exclude the police officer from the negotiations.
Lim said his intention was only to restrict Gregorio and prevent him from interfering further during the negotiations.
Lim said his order was to handcuff Gregorio, denying reports quoting MPD director Chief Superintendent Rodolfo Magtibay that Gregorio was being arrested on suspicions of being an accessory to the hostage taking.
“Yes, I ordered him to handcuff SPO2 Gregorio Mendoza, but I didn’t order General Magtibay to arrest him,” he said.
Lim also pointed out that his orders to handcuff Gregorio were not carried out because “they (MPD) still have to look for handcuffs.”
Gregorio was struggling with his colleagues while being dragged to a waiting police car. Another policeman managed to secure a pair of handcuffs from the nearby precinct at the Rizal Park.
As the police were to about to handcuff Gregorio, Lim said he prevented them and ordered the lawmen to bring Gregorio to the MPD General Assignments Section for investigation.
Lim said his order to handcuff Gregorio was justified, taking into account the possibility that he might take matters into his own hands by grabbing the service firearms of one of the police officers.
Lim also clarified that being the mayor of Manila, he is a senior adviser of the crisis management committee handling the hostage situation.
But Lim said he could not directly interfere in the negotiations as a rule because it might diminish the credibility of the negotiators.
He said Superintendent Orlando Yebra and Chief Inspector Romeo Salvador had been tasked by the MPD to negotiate during the hostage crisis.
Rolando, armed with an M16 assault rifle and a pistol, seized a busload of 21 Hong Kong tourists and four Filipino guides to demand his reinstatement in the force.
The ordeal ended in bloodshed on live TV with police storming the bus and killing Mendoza after he had fired at the tourists, killing eight of them.
Observers said what might have triggered the killing of the hostages was when Mendoza saw his younger brother being arrested on television.
The Senate focused on this question during its investigation into the incident last Thursday, where Magtibay revealed that Lim had ordered Gregorio arrested.
Following the hostage fiasco, Magtibay went on leave to allow the unhampered investigation on the incident.
Lim, on the other hand, said Magtibay had apologized to him for his statements before the Senate.
“Sorry Mayor, nabigla ako sa pagsasalita (I got carried away),” Lim quoted Magtibay as saying in a brief telephone conversation.
Lim said Magtibay might have misconstrued his order to handcuff Gregorio as an arrest order. Lim said Magtibay had admitted getting confused during the Senate hearing.
When asked if he harbors any grudge towards Magtibay, Lim said he understands the situation of Magtibay.
“Whoever will be in that kind of situation – on the witness stand, bombarded with questions, all kinds of questions from different personalities, especially senators – will have butterflies in his stomach. That would really be the case,” said the former senator.
Lim also assured the public that he is willing to face his former colleagues at the Senate to clarify the issues regarding his supposed order.
Lim hailed Magtibay for taking a leave of absence during the investigation of the incident.
He said this was to ensure an impartial investigation and show good faith on the part of Magtibay that he has nothing to hide. “But this does not mean that an investigation is being made because all the policemen made mistakes. The purpose of the investigation is to determine who is at fault and who is innocent. We must wait for the results of the investigation,” he said.
Lim also asked the public not to criticize the police for their mistakes, saying that out of 25 hostages, only eight were killed.
“Who wants this to happen? Of course, no one. Everybody wants this to be peacefully settled,” he said.
Sen. Gregorio Honasan, chairman of the Senate committee on public order and illegal drugs, said he would invite Lim to explain the actions he had taken as chairman of the local crisis management committee.
Honasan said the Senate would also invite Gregorio and Yebra, along with the representatives of various media networks.?
Honasan said there is a need to pinpoint responsibility on why the negotiations failed, and what could have triggered Rolando to carry out his threat to kill the hostages.
“The Senate will be careful in scrutinizing the events that led to the bloody end, without having to tag only a scapegoat on the blunder,” he said.
Honasan stressed it would be premature to issue a judgment but he thinks the blame goes beyond Magtibay.
“The pinpointing of responsibility is sensitive. But if you look at it, command responsibility (goes) all the way to the top, it happens,” he said.
Honasan said the Senate wants to establish the particular role played by Lim during the hostage crisis, as well as the reasons why he supposedly ordered the arrest of Gregorio.
Honasan noted television footage of Gregorio being arrested caused a commotion that might have agitated his elder brother to carry out his threat.
At this point, Honasan stressed the need for the media to regulate the showing of police operations in real time that could compromise the lives of the police officers and the victims during critical moments such as a hostage situation.
He added the Senate probe would also focus on the ability of security forces to address life threatening situations, or the possible mistakes in the judgment call of the local officials and police officers involved in the negotiations.?“We want to see the structure of the people in charge. Maybe, the laws are enough and it just needs to be implemented. This does not mean that nobody will be held liable under the law, but we will look if the laws are sufficient enough,” Honasan said.
Honasan sees a possibility of a major revamp in the national police force following the incident. He said the Philippine National Police (PNP) has been repeating its mistakes and continues to be hampered by lack of training and equipment.?Honasan also said he had asked Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo to provide the Senate with updates on the police investigation of the incident.?Senators Vicente Sotto III and Francis Escudero, on the other hand, defended Lim over the decision to restrain the hostage-taker’s brother.
Amid the faultfinding, Sotto said it was the hostage-taker who should be blamed for the bloody incident.
Escudero, for his part, said Lim would not be held liable “unless it was an illegal order.” ?Honasan said the hostage incident, which caused the country a lot of shame abroad, should prompt the PNP to get its act together so that it won’t disgrace the entire country before the international community in the future.
Sandy Araneta, Philippine Star