MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino yesterday took over control of the Philippine National Police (PNP) after senior police officials admitted serious lapses were committed in the hostage crisis in Manila that left eight Hong Kong tourists dead.
Mr. Aquino also told reporters that he was taking full responsibility for the Aug. 23 hostage debacle.
The President said he was temporarily taking over supervision of the PNP from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) under Secretary Jesse Robredo.
“I will retain for the interim control over the PNP,” he said. “I will retain direct supervision of the PNP until such time that all other concerns have been addressed.”
The President said he would take full control of the PNP and provide the law enforcement agency with the necessary tools to make it more responsive during similar life-threatening situations.
“What happened was a wake-up call for our security agencies. The hostage situation revealed our deficiency in providing the tools and training needed by our police force to ensure the safety of our people and foreign nationals who visit our country,” he said.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said the President took responsibility on the principle of accountability.
“He (Mr. Aquino) is also demonstrating his determination to bring about institutional reforms,” Coloma said.
Mr. Aquino, on the other hand, said he would leave Robredo to explain and defend himself on the circumstances that led to the failed rescue operation.
“Secretary Robredo will be able to explain. There are so many things that have to be tackled by that agency (DILG), especially in the delivery of services, I asked him (Robredo) to concentrate on that,” Mr. Aquino added.
“At the end of the day, I am responsible for everything that has transpired,” Mr. Aquino declared.
Mr. Aquino’s statement was in the context that Robredo took charge of tasks other than having administrative authority over the PNP, like handling concerns regarding informal settlers.
Several quarters have criticized Robredo for his alleged inaction over the hostage incident.
House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman said Robredo’s handling of the incident was “palpable incompetence.”
“Command responsibility is lodged with Robredo who failed to take full control of the situation and did not immediately respond to tthe crisis which lasted 11 hours,” the Albay congressman said.
Robredo, however, blamed his subordinate, Undersecretary Rico Puno, who he said was in charge of the PNP.
An investigation into the botched rescue effort began yesterday with Puno – who had been put in charge of police operations during the hostage crisis – and PNP chief Director General Jesus Verzosa saying the authorities’ objective was to exhaust the gunman through negotiations because police thought they could save all the hostages as well as the hostage-taker.
Even as some quarters called on Robredo to resign following the botched rescue attempt, his former colleagues in local government issued a statement of support.
In a statement signed by 15 incumbent and former local officials that included former Isabela governor Grace Padaca, the Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership said the calls for Robredo’s resignation are unjustified.
“We urge our government leaders to set aside politics for the meantime as we try to move forward with the investigation to find out what really transpired during the hostage crisis,” the group said.
The group also urged President Aquino to act decisively in giving the appropriate punishment to government leaders found to have neglected their duties and responsibilities during the hostage crisis.
“By doing so, our government can send a clear and strong message to our countrymen and the international community that justice will be served on those who failed to perform their duties regardless of influence or position,” the group said in their statement.
The group said Mr. Aquino had tapped Robredo to focus on local government matters and designated Puno to be more directly in charge of the PNP.
“Thus it was Puno and not Robredo whom Aquino said was partly to blame for the botched response of the PNP,” they said.
The group said a swift and impartial investigation on the issue would help restore the credibility of the government in the eyes of the international community.
Lawmakers led by Sen. Francis Pangilinan expressed dismay over the mishandling of the hostage crisis, which, he said, should have been properly done with clear and competent guidance from the DILG.
“Our police have long been beleaguered by corruption, thereby leaving them ill-equipped and without proper training to tactically engage threats such as a hostage situation. Lessons will have to be learned from this harrowing episode,” he said.
Pangilinan said the time has come to stop finger pointing, especially after the President took over control of the PNP.
“Now is the time to pull the bull by its horns and find long-lasting solutions to that which ails our national police,” Pangilinan said.