MANILA, Philippines - The last moments of the bloody hostage-taking incident on Aug. 23 were revealed yesterday, showing in detail how dismissed police senior inspector Rolando Mendoza became distraught and shot the remaining hostages one after the other.
“May binaril na ako rito dalawa. Dadagdagan ko pa ito… Binaril ko ang dalawang Chinese… Pag hindi sila tumigil… uubusin ko ito… Uubusin ko ito… pakawalan n’yo na kapatid ko (I have already shot two here. I will add more… I shot two Chinese… If they don’t stop… I will finish them off… I will finish them off… Free my brother),” Mendoza said in the recordings.
The incident investigation and review committee (IIRC) led by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima listened to the audio recordings of interviews with Mendoza that detailed how he carried out his threat.
The audio recordings made by Radio Mindanao Network (RMN) were confirmed by bus driver Alberto Lubang, who said he saw Mendoza shoot the hostages.
Lubang told the panel that Mendoza became distraught after seeing his younger brother SPO2 Gregorio Mendoza being arrested and hauled into a waiting police van.
Lubang said Mendoza saw it all happen on the television monitor inside the bus while at the same time being interviewed live by RMN radio anchor Michael Rogas.
Rogas appeared before the panel with RMN station manager Jake Maderazo and supplied the audio recordings of the last interview with Mendoza.
Rogas said the trouble started when Mendoza demanded that police snipers get out of the area.
“Yang mga sniper, pag hindi sila nagsialis sa kanilang mga pwesto ay sasampolan ko sila Ii-snipe-in ko kako itong nasa pintuan (These snipers, if they won’t go away, I’ll give them a sample. I’ll shoot this one at the door),” Mendoza said, pointing to Masa Tse, the tour guide who was handcuffed to the door of the bus and who was subsequently killed.
Rogas said Mendoza became more nervous when he saw the police SWAT deploying around the bus.
It was at this point that Mendoza seemed to realize what was coming and made another threat.
“Ang daming SWAT na dumarating, nakikita ko sa palibot. Ako naman, alam ko papatayin din nila ako. Kaya magsialis na sila dahil anytime, gagawin ko din ‘yun dito. (I see a lot of SWAT coming. Many SWAT members are here, I see them all around. I know they are going to kill me. They should go away because anytime, I’ll do the same here on the bus),” Mendoza said in the interview.
The breaking point, according to Rogas, came when Mendoza saw his brother being arrested.
Lubang, who overheard the conversation with Rogas, confirmed that Mendoza became very distraught.
“Oh, yung kapatid ko nakikita ko (on TV), bakit nila ginaganyan? Akong may kasalanan dito, walang kasalanan ‘yan! Walang kasalanan ‘yan. Ipakita niyo na pinakawalan ninyo kapatid ko! Ipakita nila, pagka hindi titirahin ko ang mga nandirito sa loob! (I can see my brother, why are they doing that? I’m the one at fault here, not him! He’s not at fault. Show me that he’s being freed! Show me or else I’ll start shooting the people here!),” Mendoza shouted.
Rogas said he tried to calm Mendoza down but realized later the futility of his effort.
He said Mendoza was repeatedly demanding that police release his brother and leave him in an area on the left side of the bus.
“Ipakita nila, ipakita nila dito sa kaliwa, sa kaliwa! Makita ko sa kaliwa ng bus. Palakarin nila ang kapatid ko diyan! Pagka hindi… ito, talagang ano. Aanuhin ko dito lahat-lahat. (Show him, show him at the left! Make sure I see him at the left side of the bus. Make my brother walk away! Or else, I’ll… I’ll…),” Mendoza said.
Rogas said he was trying to assure Mendoza that the police were already in the process of releasing his younger brother.
“Bibigyan ko sila ng limang minuto para pakawalan yan! ‘Pag di nila pinakawalan yan babarilin ko ‘tong nasa unahan! (I’m giving them five minutes to release him! If they don’t release him, I will shoot this person in front!),” Mendoza told Rogas in excerpts of the three-and-a-half hour interview played during the hearing.
At around 7:23 p.m., a gunshot was heard.
Still shouting, Mendoza again demanded that his brother be released. This happened simultaneously when Gregorio was seen on TV being brought inside the police van.
“May nabaril na ‘kong dalawa dito! Wag niyong idamay kapatid ko, ako ang gumagawa ng kasalanan dito! (I already shot two persons here! Don’t involve my brother, I am the one committing a sin here!),” Mendoza shouted.
A few seconds later, more gunshots were heard over the phone interview.
Rogas said Mendoza had seen the SWAT beside the bus and gave out another threat.
“Uubusin ko ‘to pag ‘di sila tumigil sa kakatakbo sa gilid (I will finish all these people if they don’t stop running around the bus),” Mendoza told Rogas.
Maderazo told the panel that the interview took place from 7:23 p.m. to 7:28 p.m.
He also revealed that during their coverage, the demand of Mendoza for the release of his brother was relayed to Superintendent Nelson Yabut of the Manila Police District (MPD).
But the line was cut, according to Maderazo, and Mendoza did not answer their call for over 22 minutes.
He said they got Mendoza back on line at around 7:50 p.m. but was again cut off after two minutes. Mendoza had already been shot by a police sniper.
Asked why they kept Mendoza on the phone during crucial stages of the hostage incident, Maderazo said their station was just “doing a sworn duty to inform the public.”
Lubang, for his part, told the panel that Mendoza started making plans when he saw the police surrounding the bus.
Lubang said he saw the hostage-taker shoot his victims one by one with his M-16 rifle in the rearview mirror of the bus since he was handcuffed to the wheel.
Mendoza, he said, then walked to the front of the bus and shot the male tourist who was handcuffed near the door. The victim fell near him.
“Binaril n’ya mga nakaupong pasahero, isa isa at malapitan (He shot the seated passengers, one by one and at close range),” Lubang said.
He said he did not hear any of the victims plead or cry for help.
After the shooting spree, Lubang said Mendoza ordered him to drive the bus. But while he was maneuvering, snipers shot the tires of the bus.
At that point, Lubang said he pleaded with Mendoza to release him and to his surprise, the hostage taker replied, “Bahala ka (That’s up to you).”
Lubang said he was then able to take the handcuffs off using the nail cutter he had, which took him two minutes before he jumped out of the left window of the bus.
Lubang narrated to the panel how Mendoza boarded their bus at past 10 a.m. in Fort Santiago in Intramuros. The policeman initially requested for a ride because he was also going to the airport.
But a few minutes later when they were near Anda Circle, Mendoza took control of the bus.
“Sabi n’ya, ‘Sorry, hostage ko kayo. Dalhin muna sa Luneta (He said, ‘Sorry, I’m taking you hostage. Drive to Luneta’),” Lubang recalled.
He said Mendoza was quite calm in the early hours of the 11-hour standoff.
“He just kept on telling us to cooperate and no one would be hurt,” he said.
It was around 4 p.m. when Mendoza started to lose his temper after reading the letter from the Ombudsman.
Lubang said Mendoza was not happy with the response of the Ombudsman because he demanded his reinstatement to the police force through a reversal of a resolution that dismissed him from the service over robbery-extortion charges.
“It was after he read the letter, that’s when he started to get mad,” Lubang said.
Lubang’s testimony ran counter to allegations of the police.
Before shocked members of the panel, Lubang made sketches that detailed where the hostages were seated when they were shot and how Mendoza executed them.
Lubang said he did not hear Gregorio calling on his elder brother not to agree with the negotiators unless his service firearm was returned to him.
Negotiators Superintendent Orlando Yebra and Chief Inspector Romeo Salvador claimed Gregorio agitated the hostage-taker and supposedly told him not to give in unless the firearm was returned.
Lubang also belied the testimonies of Yebra and Salvador that Mendoza was hurling invectives while speaking to an official of the Ombudsman over the phone.
Salvador earlier told the IIRC that he overheard Mendoza talking to Deputy Ombudsman Emilio Gonzales III over the phone and mentioned an amount. Gonzales had denied speaking with Mendoza.
Yesterday’s hearing concluded with the ocular inspection of the Quirino Grandstand where the hostage-taking incident took place.
The IIRC is expected to conclude its clarificatory hearings today with a re-enactment of the incident inside the bus being held in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.
Eddu Punay, Philippine Star