MANILA, Philippines — Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said on Thursday that the Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IICR) will most likely recommend charges against more or less 10 individuals, including media personalities, in connection with the August 23 hostage-taking in front of the Quirino Grandstand in Manila.
De Lima, former chairman of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), said some media personalities may be implicated and charged with government officials amid accusations that reporters who covered the incident blow-by-blow, especially over television, unwittingly telegraphed the authorities' moves against the hostage-taker.
De Lima added that the crisis management committee, which was tasked to oversee the progress of negotiation and implement steps to peacefully end the hostage-taking, may also be held accountable.
However, De Lima refused to name the individuals. “Didn’t the President already say that heads will roll? We expect the President to act on the basis of our recommendation,” said De Lima when asked if she thinks that the government will be able to implement the IIRC’s recommendation.
She said the IIRC is not quasi-judicial but only a fact-finding body. “We can only recommend based on our evaluation,” she said.
The Justice Secretary reiterated that it was the hostage-taker, dismissed Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza, who shot and killed eight tourists, during the tragic bloody hostage-taking.
She said that as of Thursday noon, the panel has already completed at least 95 percent of the report, which she described as credible and exhaustive.
She said the IIRC relied heavily on the testimonies of at least three survivors as well as the tourist bus driver, Alberto Lubang, that Mendoza, armed with an assault rifle, shot the hostages at close-range.
She said the statements of these three survivors, who were at the Hong Thai tourist bus until the very end, were substantial enough.
“Yes, it was him (Mendoza) who killed the hostages,” she said. “The survivors corroborated some material points in the statements of Lubang. Yes, even autopsy report from Hong Kong authorities and survivors’ accounts. We were able to get statements and testimonies of five survivors, two released hostages and three survivors who were in the bus up to the very end. We were not able to get the accounts of other hostages because they did not give consent to us. But the accounts of three survivors are substantial enough,” she said.
De Lima further noted that shortly after escaping from the hijacked bus, the driver told authorities that Mendoza killed the hostages one after another.
When asked how high the charges will go as far as suing government officials found to have bungled the negotiation, she said “high enough.”
De Lima said the committee will request President Aquino for a private audience so that the panel would personally submit to him the report.
“The report will be submitted tomorrow (today, Friday) to President Aquino III. We are just cleaning up the portions of accountability," de Lima said. "We don’t want to submit the report thru mail or by a messenger."
The committee will also touch the report of accusations that a ranking official of the Office of the Ombudsman allegedly demanded a huge sum of money before in exchange for the dropping of charges against Mendoza.
One of the negotiators claimed that he heard Mendoza berating over the phone an official of the Ombudsman for demanding the amount.
“We've been discussing the appropriate recommendations for the Deputy Ombudsman involved. But as of last night (Wednesday night), we are not sure kung ano ang magiging recommendation namin,” she said.
To address the damaged image of the country before the international community, especially to Hong Kong, De Lima said the government is trying to resolve it with dispatch by coming up with credible, thorough and exhaustive report.
Jeamma Sabate, Manila Bulletin