On the second day of the official probe into the hostage massacre last August 23, one of the negotiators said he heard the hostage-taker, dismissed policeman Rolando Mendoza, cursing at an Ombudsman official for demanding a P150,000 bribe in relation to his pending case.
"P-- mo, humihingi ka pa ng P150,000 para sa kaso ko. Kung may mamatay rito, kasalanan mo lahat ito," an agitated Mendoza allegedly told Deputy Ombudsman Emilio Gonzalez III over the phone.
One of the two negotiators, Chief Inspector Romeo Salvador, said he had clearly heard Mendoza say those words while repeating the expletive. He claimed the same in an affidavit he submitted to the National Bureau of Investigation last week, with slightly different words.
Salvador was then outside the bus on the driver's side, while Mendoza was inside beside the driver, who was handcuffed to the steering wheel.
Investigators are looking into the possibility that the alleged P150,000 demand could have fueled Mendoza's desperate attempt to regain his job.
Gonzalez is deputy Ombudsman for Military and other Law Enforcement Offices. He could not be contacted over the weekend to respond to Mendoza's alleged allegation, but is scheduled to appear before the Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC) on Monday.
Mendoza was dismissed from the police force last year for an alleged extortion of a traffic violator in 2006. His case was under review in the Office of the Ombudsman.
During the hostage crisis, he was allowed by negotiators to speak to officials of the Office of the Ombudsman to discuss his case.
Initially, Mendoza to spoke Manila Vice Mayor Isko Moreno, who had gone to the Office of the Ombudsman to personally relay the hostage-taker's demand to be reinstated to the police force.
But when the phone was handed over to Gonzalez, Mendoza's temper suddenly rose, according to Salvador.
Moreno confirms Mendoza talked with Gonzalez
At the resumption Saturday of the IIRC on the hostage tragedy, committee member and Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas president Herman Basbano asked Moreno, who was with Gonzalez inside the Office of the Ombudsman at the time of the call, if he was aware that Mendoza was already shouting at the deputy ombudsman.
"Wala po. Wala po akong alam diyan. Hindi ko naman po ugali ang tsumismis [I don't know about that demand. It's not my habit to snoop around]," Moreno told the committee.
The vice mayor said he could not hear Mendoza on the other end of the line, adding that all he heard was Gonzalez saying "Okay" and nodding.
Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, who also spoke with Mendoza on the phone, promised to personally review his case and sent a letter of assurance.
To convince Mendoza about the letter's authenticity, Gutierrez had her official seal stamped on the letter and even had a picture of her with Moreno taken as proof that the meeting between the Ombudsman and the Manila vice mayor took place. (See: Ombudsman to hostage negotiator: Let's pose for a picture)
Upon reading its contents, Mendoza rejected the letter saying: "Basura ‘to. Walang silbi ito. Order ang hinahanap ko [This is trash. This does not mean anything. What I was expecting is an order]."
More Salvador insights into Mendoza's behavior
Interestingly, Salvador revealed that one of the first points Mendoza told him when the negotiations opened was the utmost importance of his return to the police service, even saying that he was ready to face the consequences of his having taken hostages so long as he gets reinstated.
"Ibalik niyo lang ako sa trabaho ko, tapos na ito. Alam ko namang may kaso ako dito pagkatapos nito [Just give me back my job and I’ll give this up. Anyway, I know I will be facing a new case after what I did]," Salvador recounted the hostage-taker as having told him.
Salvador also admitted he wanted to subdue Mendoza by himself when he had the chance of getting close to the hostage-taker at the bus door. Salvador however said main negotiator Superintendent Orlando Yebra prevented him.
When Mendoza fired his first shot past 6 p.m., Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim left the area and proceeded to the Emerald Garden Restaurant to discuss succeeding moves with other officials. Soon after Lim left, Moreno followed suit.
In justifying his departure from the command post, Moreno said once Mendoza opened fire, he already considered the situation a purely police operation.
"I did not know the structure of the crisis committee... May perception ako na this was already a police operation... Akala ko wala na kami dapat sa picture because the first shot was fired," Moreno said.
In the same hearing, Moreno also said the incident should have been considered of national importance, stressing that the foreign press and other foreign observers were already following the progress of the negotiations.
"It is my personal belief that this is a national crisis. So many foreigners were involved … Other national officials should have been involved," said Moreno, who helped in the negotiations as a member of the local crisis management committee.
He said the Cable News Network (CNN) called him up for an interview, which "surprised" him because he had expected such a major international media network to be speaking with top-ranked government officials rather than him.
Moreno said he assumed that international media groups had tried but failed to reach other ranking officials.
"But I believe other officials should have answered the calls, like Philippine National Police chief Director General Jesus Verzosa. It should not just be Gen. Magtibay, but Verzosa," Moreno said.
Nevertheless, Manila’s vice mayor said he didn’t allow the thought to bother him and focused more on helping resolve the crisis.
Halfway through Salvador's testimony, his blood pressure shot up, prompting the IIRC to take a break. But the police officer insisted in resuming his account.
Salvador said the negotiations could have succeeded if no unnecessary intervention was made along the way. "May nakialam lang kasi eh [The thing is, someone intervened]," he said.
When a panel member asked who the intervenor was, Salvador curtly replied: "I don't know."
Mendoza had turned more distraught when he saw his brother SPO2 Gregorio Mendoza, initially tapped by the negotiators to help, being arrested by authorities.
The hostage crisis ended with the death of eight tourists from Hong Kong and Mendoza.
Metro Manila police head Director Leocadio Santiago also testified in Saturday's hearing and said if he were to be asked, he would have deployed Special Action Force (SAF) units to assault Mendoza after negotiations crumbled. (See: Verzosa wanted SAF to step in but Magtibay chose SWAT)
Mark Meruenas, GMA News