MANILA, Philippines – Their bulletproof vests had reached the expiry date and were shrinking in the rain, and they lacked assault rifles.
Lack of necessary equipment was blamed for the bungled police assault during the hostage-taking incident that resulted in the deaths of eight Hong Kong tourists last Aug. 23.
This was highlighted during the initial hearings of the incident investigation and review committee (IIRC) headed by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
On the second day of the hearings last Saturday, members of the SWAT team of the Manila Police District (MPD) that conducted the assault said they could have done better had they been properly equipped.
PO3 Edwin Simacon and PO2 Francis Ungco, two members of the SWAT team that assaulted the hijacked bus, said the lack of equipment prevented them from conducting a successful assault.
“We could have done better if we had explosive devices that could have been used to break the glass windows (of the bus),” Simacon said in Filipino.
He believes his team could also have taken down the hostage taker, former police senior inspector Rolando Mendoza, if they were armed with submachine guns instead of the standard M16 infantry rifle which, he said, was used during the Vietnam War era.
Simacon said his team did not have night-vision goggles and any protective gear when they assaulted the bus.
Ungco, for his part, said the bulletproof vests that were issued to them were substandard.
He explained the vests were made of fiber materials that had been weakened during the heavy downpour, and which could no longer stop even a single round of bullets.
“The vests should not be drenched in water. They’re just made of fiber. Our bullet-proof vests have expiration dates,” Ungco said.
Both policemen stressed they could have done better if they wore vests with steel plates, which can protect them from rifle fire coming from Mendoza.
Mendoza, a decorated police officer who had been sacked over extortion charges, took a busload of Hong Kong tourists hostage in Manila, demanding to be reinstated. This led to a siege and muddled police negotiations that ended with Mendoza and eight of the tourists dead.
The bungled rescue has enraged Hong Kong and embarrassed the Philippine government, which has called for an investigation of the incident.
President Aquino took responsibility for the incident and also took over the supervision of the PNP.
Top police officials, including Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Jesus Verzosa and National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) chief Director Leocadio Santiago, also told the IIRC panel that it would have been better if the elite SAF were called in to assault the bus.
This developed as President Aquino ordered Verzosa to file administrative charges against a high-ranking police official over the purchase of substandard bulletproof vests and other equipment used by police special forces.
The name of the official was not revealed but sources said the President issued the order after a surprise inspection at the headquarters of the PNP’s Special Action Force (SAF) at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig last week.
Sources said Mr. Aquino was dismayed to find out that some of the equipment used by the police special forces were faulty and substandard.
“There has already been an order to the Director General of the PNP to make sure that certain people who are engaged in questionable practices be prevented from inflicting anymore such actions on the people,” the President added.
According to Mr. Aquino, they are “now in the process of getting the supporting documentation.”
Mr. Aquino took over control of the PNP after senior police officials admitted serious lapses were committed in the hostage crisis.
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 in similar life threatening situations.
Mr. Aquino promised to carry out “corrective measures” in the PNP within the week, starting from what he has “unearthed.”
“We got pointed in this direction precisely because of the debacle at the (Quirino) grandstand. We will know precisely all of the areas or most of the areas that need to be addressed to prevent such an occurrence,” Mr. Aquino said.
Edu Punay, Philippine Star