Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has been named chairman of the Joint Incident Investigation and Review Committee (JIIRC) that is investigating the bloody hostage drama last August 23 in front of the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park.
“Pursuant to a presidential directive, the Joint Incident Investigation and Review Committee is created effective immediately. The Secretary of the Department of Justice will sit as the chairperson, with the SILG (Secretary of the Interior and Local Government) and the Communications Group as members,” said Senior Superintendent Agrimero Cruz Jr., Philippine National Police spokesman, in a press briefing after the conference of the PNP top brass Monday.
Only Secretary De Lima is now authorized to issue statements concerning the investigation into the August 23 bus hijacking in Manila, Malacañang said.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) are covered by the “gag order.” The NBI, the PNP and all other offices have been told not to issue any announcements.
“One thing also, except for today (Monday) the Secretary of Justice issued a gag order. From henceforth, only the Secretary of Justice will be issuing briefings and all the details of the investigation process so as not to cause confusion to the public,” Lacierda said.
President Benigno S. Aquino III formed the JIIRC to centralize the source of the information that will be given to the public through the media.
The same order made the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) as the main investigating agency of the hostage-taking incident, said Cruz.
“There will be one source of information with regard to the incident, that is what the President wants,” Cruz told reporters in a press briefing in Camp Crame in Quezon City.
By only one source, Cruz revealed that only the chairman of the JIIRC, Justice De Lima, will have the sole authority to talk and discuss everything about the developments on the investigation of the hostage drama last week.
“The directive is very strict, anything about the hostage incident, it will come from them (JIIRC),” said Cruz.
Cruz, however, clarified the PNP is not totally sidelined with the President’s order, saying they were not barred from continuing the investigation on all aspects of the hostage drama that left eight foreign hostages. The hostage-taker, dismissed Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza, was also neutralized by eight bullets from police snipers and assault team.
“The PNP will provide investigative support to the committee, along with the NBI,” he said.
The investigative support, the official said, is through the PNP’s Post Critical Investigation and Management Committee (PCIMC), created and headed by Director General Jesus Verzosa, PNP chief.
The probe into the hostage drama would be done by the Philippine government led by the DoJ. Hong Kong, which has been allowed to conduct its own probe, will only have an observer status in the investigation, Lacierda said.
But there will be an “exchange of final reports”, Lacierda said.
This was agreed upon by De Lima and Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo during their meeting with Chinese government representatives Monday.
“I just came from a meeting with the investigation team together with Sec. De Lima and Sec. Robredo and the Chinese officials. We agreed that the Philippines will have primary jurisdiction over the investigation that they would be coordinating with the Philippine authorities," Lacierda said in a press briefing.
RP allows HK to conduct probe
Hong Kong authorities were allowed to conduct separate investigation into the August 23 hostage-taking with few conditions, De Lima said.
This developed as investigation showed that some of the hostages had tried to neutralize the hostage-taker – dismissed Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza – during the critical moments of the hostage drama last August 23, a bold attempt that would have changed the outcome of the incident had they succeeded.
De Lima said the Hong Kong authorities recognize the authority and jurisdiction of the Philippines and briefed them about protocol in conducting probe into the incident.
“The Hong Kong authorities respect the Philippine’s authority and jurisdiction (over the incident.) We reiterated the President’s assurance of a fair, thorough, and full investigation into the incident,” said De Lima after briefing the Hong Kong authorities led by Hong Kong Police Assistant Commissioner David Ng and Superintendent Man Tat Shing also of HK police.
De Lima said the Hong Kong authorities were allowed to conduct inspection on the tourist bus where slain hostage-taker Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza held hostage Hong Kong and Canadian tourists.
Meanwhile, Senior Superintendent Cruz said initial findings showing that some of the hostages tried to neutralize Mendoza was backed by the testimony of one of the wounded foreign victims, Chan Kwok Chu Joe, who is now recuperating from gunshot wounds in a Hong Kong hospital.
According to Chan’s statement on Hong Kong Headline News, he and four other male hostages attempted to subdue the suspect but were unsuccessful when Mendoza evaded their attack and directed his weapon on them.
The burst of gunfire following the attempt to take him down instantly killed three male hostages, adding that he tried to shield himself from Mendoza's gunfire using a bagful of bottled water but the bullets penetrated and nearly severed his arms.
Cruz said Chan’s statement bolstered the initial results of the examination conducted by the Scene of the Crime Operations (SOCO) inside the Hong Thai bus where the carnage occurred.
“Three of the victims who tried to fight him were shot, Mendoza even hit one of the slain victims with armalite,” said Cruz.
The one who was hit with the armalite rifle of Mendoza was said to be hit by the sledgehammer during the rescue operation based on the hoax narration of the event circulating over the Internet.
Based on the autopsy report, four of the eight foreign hostages sustained bullet wounds in the neck and on the head while others suffered wounds in the body.
“Those who were hit in the body are believed to be the ones who attempted to subdue the hostage-taker,” said Cruz.
Based on the interview of Chan, the survivor described Mendoza as violent during the critical period of the incident, which was believed to have been triggered when his brother, SPO2 Gregorio Mendoza, was being arrested. The hostage-taker saw the entire incident, which was covered live in some local television stations, in a television inside the tourist bus.
Postpone HK trip
In a related development, Philippine Consul-General to Hong Kong Claro Cristobal urged Filipino tourists and travelers to just postpone their plans to visit the former British Crown Colony if they feel uneasy about their safety, “lest, you will not enjoy your visit if you are entertaining fears in your mind.”
“If you’re having second thoughts on having the trip, better postpone it,” Cristobal said in a radio interview.
Cristobal also disclosed that he has received a letter denying any maltreatment of Filipinos at the Hong Kong airport. (With reports from Jeamma E. Sabate and Roy C. Mabasa)