MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino wants the inter-agency body investigating the bloody hostage drama at the Rizal Park to submit its findings within three weeks.
Justice Undersecretary Jose Vicente Salazar said the President has instructed the Incident Review Committee to expedite its investigation following reports that Beijing was demanding a swift and comprehensive probe on the hostage taking, which ended with the deaths of eight Hong Kong tourists and the hostage taker, dismissed police officer Rolando Mendoza. The Department of Justice (DOJ) heads the committee.
In an interview with reporters, Salazar said President Aquino has instructed them “to finish the investigation immediately.”
Salazar said they had initially set a 60-day period to conclude their investigation, which was specifically intended to determine the lapses committed by authorities in the handling of the hostage drama as well as to address institutional problems to prevent a similar incident in the future.
A statement from the Chinese Ministry on Foreign Affairs said that the completion of the probe should be the “most urgent task” for the government.
The President has designated Justice Secretary Leila de Lima as chair of IRC and Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo as vice chair.
Salazar said the Palace had junked calls from House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman that Robredo be removed from the investigating team and held liable for the incident.
Salazar said Robredo should be in the committee because his department “is in-charge of imposing disciplinary actions and disciplinary penalties against erring PNP personnel.”
The DOJ official also revealed that Mr. Aquino also dismissed the suggestion to have Philippine National Police chief Director General Jesus Verzosa and National Bureau of Investigation director Magtanggol Gatdula, and the head of PNP internal audit division, as members of the team.
“Only two will come from the government. We will have three members from the private sector – one from the Kapisanan ng mga Broadkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), another from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and Teresita Ang-See of PLEB (People’s Law Enforcement Board),” he said.
Salazar said the NBI would have the “primary role” in the parallel probe.
He also said the PNP would still play a role in the committee.
“We should remember that right now the custody is with the PNP so definitely they will have a role but the primary role will have to be done by the NBI,” he said.
He revealed that the IRC has yet to formally convene next week.
“We will see how we will go about it, what procedure we will employ, what structures will be acceptable, who will be called as resource persons who can give us objective views and opinions,” Salazar said.
The NBI, for its part, said it was conducting a “backtracking” of the incident so it could have a clearer picture of the hostage tragedy.
“We are doing a backtracking on what really happened,” said NBI spokesman Cecilio Zamora.
“We would like to know how Mendoza went to Fort Santiago minutes before the hostage taking took place,” said Zamora.
“We still don’t know if a man or a woman drove the car. We have no confirmed data on that yet,” said Zamora.
A witness reportedly saw Mendoza taking an M-16 rifle from the compartment of a Toyota Vios before boarding the Hong Thai Travel tourist bus.
“Several people saw Mendoza in Fort Santiago. We are interviewing several witnesses already. We are also checking if there are lapses in the police operations, but we don’t want to preempt the police investigation,” Zamora said.
Robredo said the previous administration was also to blame for the tragic hostage incident because it failed to address the security forces’ problem with lack of training and equipment.
“The hostage incident showed the apparent lack of modern equipment and training of our police force, which the previous administration failed to address,” Robredo said.
Robredo said all protocols were followed in the handling of the hostage incident and that Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim was on top of the situation as head of the crisis committee.
“He possesses relevant experience as former chief of the Manila Police District, former NBI director and even a former DILG secretary,” Robredo added.
He said the situation only took a turn for the worse when negotiations bogged down in the afternoon following the arrest of Mendoza’s brother.
“We are working as fast and as judiciously as we can to find out what really happened,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) said an independent body should investigate the incident to stave off a whitewash.
“In order to have credibility and to prevent perception of bias, the government should have an independent investigating body handle the case,” VACC founding chairman Dante Jimenez said. “We could also invite the Hong Kong police.”
Edu Punay, Philippine Star