MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino identified yesterday 13 government officials and private individuals, including three media men, recommended for sanctions by the incident investigation and review committee (IIRC) in connection with the mishandling of the Aug. 23 hostage crisis.
Mr. Aquino designated Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Eduardo de Mesa to head the legal team that would further assess and review the recommendations made by the IIRC, including the charges to be filed against the people found liable for the bungled operation.
The IIRC recommended the filing of appropriate charges against Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Rico Puno, retired Philippine National Police chief Director General Jesus Verzosa, National Capital Region Police Office chief Director Leocadio Santiago, Manila Police District director Chief Superintendent Rodolfo Magtibay, chief negotiator Superintendent Orlando Yebra Jr., and Chief Inspector Santiago Pascual, head of the Manila Police District Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) unit.
Also included were Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and Deputy Ombudsman Emilio Gonzales, Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim and Vice Mayor Isko Moreno.
The panel also recommended the filing of charges against broadcasters Erwin Tulfo and Mike Rogas of RMN/dzXL, and Jake Maderazo, station manager of dzXL.
The IIRC also found liable the executives of the country’s three biggest television networks ABS-CBN Channel 2, GMA-7 and ABC TV-5.
“As I am now leaving on an important mission, I want to emphasize that I do not want to make decisions regarding such important matters without a thorough review. I will study their findings upon my return, and decide accordingly,” he told a press briefing.
“I will release the committee’s recommendations alongside the legal team’s evaluation and recommended course of action at that time,” Mr. Aquino added, promising to make the announcement perhaps a day after he arrives from his US trip.
“We are committed to implementing the necessary changes to upgrade the capabilities of our local government units, police and security forces, to ensure the safety of the public,” he declared.
From the names that Mr. Aquino mentioned, it seemed, however, that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima played it safe and recommended the filing of charges against everybody, either administrative sanctions for negligence or for indictment.
“I want to be fair to all of them and I want to know the real degree of their culpability,” Mr. Aquino told Palace reporters. “Of course, I also don’t want that at the end of the day all of these charges would just be dismissed.”
“There’s always presumption of innocence until proven guilty. I don’t want to pillory some people who may not be guilty after all,” he said, downplaying speculations he may subscribe to what the De Lima panel had recommended.
The President revealed that the manual on crisis management is forthcoming.
“We have also been working to review and improve our procedures and protocols for emergency and crisis situations and a draft of a new crisis management manual is now being prepared,” he said.
The Manila police chief earlier went on leave while five other police officers were relieved because of their lapses during the assault on the tourist bus where dismissed policeman Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza held the Hong Kong tourists hostage.
Mendoza, who was dismissed from the police force last year for extortion, commandeered a Hong Thai Travel tourist bus in Intramuros and held hostage 21 Hong Kong tourists and four Filipino guides for several hours in front of the Quirino Grandstand at Rizal Park.
The suspect, armed with an M16 rifle and a pistol, had released several hostages before the SWAT team assaulted the bus resulting in the death of the hostage-taker and eight tourists.
Police hostage negotiators said Mendoza turned violent due to frustration after failing to get his demand to be reinstated to the police force.
Mendoza also started shooting the hostages when he saw on the television inside the bus live footage of his brother Senior Police Officer 2 Gregorio Mendoza being arrested.
Gregorio was accosted for failing to help in the negotiation, and his firearm was confiscated.
NCRPO chief Director Santiago said he would abide with whatever decision the President would make after he was included in the list of officials that the IIRC found liable in the hostage crisis.
“I’m a man in uniform. I’m a professional career officer and I would follow the decision of President Aquino or my superiors with regard to my alleged involvement in the incident,” he said.
“Kung ano desisyon ng pamunuan (whatever is the decision of the leadership), my duty is to abide,” said Santiago in a text message to The STAR.
Former PNP chief Verzosa could not be reached for comment.
The PNP has yet to issue a comment on the matter.
The Office of the Ombudsman is surprised by how the IIRC has supposedly recommended the filing of charges against Ombudsman Gutierrez.
“It comes as a surprise because we have not done anything illegal or out of line,” Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon Mark Jalandoni said.
“Equity and justice dictate that a copy be furnished our Office so we can respond accordingly,” he told The STAR, noting that the anti-graft agency will wait for the full report.
Like Manila Vice Mayor Moreno who went to the Office of the Ombudsman on the day of the hostage-taking incident to find a solution to the problem, Gutierrez tried to help pacify Mendoza.
After her conversation with the hostage-taker wherein she promised to personally review the grave misconduct case against the dismissed police captain, one Hong Kong tourist was released.
IIRC head okays review of panel report
Justice Secretary De Lima said that she sees nothing wrong with the decision of President Aquino to have their report reviewed by his legal team.
De Lima said they respect the President’s decision not to reveal the portion of the 83-page report on recommendations on the filing of appropriate charges against those found liable.
“The President wants to make sure that proper charges will be filed against those officials and persons named in our report, which is just recommendatory in the first place. I think he wants to determine if they could add more charges and come up with strong cases to be filed,” she told reporters in an interview last night.
De Lima revealed that the IIRC panel has submitted specific recommendations for filing of administrative charges against officials named in the report.
She refused to be specific, not wanting to go beyond the bounds of her authority. She only hinted that there are variations on the specific administrative charges recommended by the panel.
But she admitted that they have left the criminal aspects “open-ended.”
“We did not want the criminal aspects to be restrained so we submitted open-ended recommendations,” she explained.
De Lima said that with the review of legal team of the President, there is a “theoretical possibility” that some of the 13 they found liable in the hostage incident would be eventually excluded from the list.
Asked what she would feel in case that happens, she replied: “We will react in due time. (But) we will stand by our report.”
She also explained that the President has already dispelled fears of a whitewash by making public the names of the persons found liable by the IIRC.
Senator urges concerned officials to take leave
Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri called on the 13 executives and police officials recommended to face sanctions to take a leave of absence.
“For the meantime, they should file a leave of absence,” Zubiri said.
Zubiri said this is the opportunity for Aquino to show that “ang taong bayan ang boss niya (the people are his boss)” and not his friends or his relatives.
The senator was referring to the IRRC recommendation to also hold liable Interior Undersecretary Puno, who is a close friend of the President. In his inaugural speech Aquino had said that the Filipino people are his boss.
Zubiri also criticized the IIRC for failing to charge Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, who was actually a member of the IIRC.
“You are the head honcho, for not taking overall control over the situation as DILG secretary,” Zubiri said.
He said Robredo should be reminded that it is part of his “job description” and his functions to oversee operations and that he should not have delegated his duties to his undersecretaries.
“You are the secretary of the department, and if something happens and you do not have control, then you will also be embarrassed,” Zubiri said.
Zubiri maintained that the Senate would request for a copy of the IIRC report to be able to scrutinize it.
Several senators also criticized the decision of the Aquino administration to delay the release of the IIRC report to the Filipino people until the Chinese government gets a copy.
“I think the issue goes into the right to know and it should always be the Filipinos first. We understand that there are some sensitivities and we understand the grief and anger felt by our neighbor, HK and China, we understand what the families are going through and really our heartfelt condolences, that’s why there’s no nonsense investigation,” said Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano.
Sen. Loren Legarda said while China has the right to know, the Filipino people also have an “equal or even more” right to know.
Sen. Gregorio Honasan said he did not see any problem if China gets the report first before it is made public among the Filipinos.
“Walang problema. Kaya lang maselan ito. It’s very sensitive. I think the first audience should be the Filipino people. So that it cannot be said that – even in terms of perception – that we succumbed to pressure,” Honasan said.
Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada said the Filipinos should have been informed first before other countries.
Instead of criticizing President Aquino, Sen. Francis Escudero lashed out at Presidential Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang for prematurely revealing that the chief executive is giving China a copy of the report first before revealing its contents to the entire Filipino nation.
“The point is Secretary Carandang, I think, should not have said anything about it. If at all they’re giving advance copy to the embassy, then it’s a matter for them to simply do and not announce. Now that he’s announced, they’re hard put to defend it,” Escudero said.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said he does not see anything wrong with giving Chinese authorities a copy of the report first.
“We have promised that we will supply them our findings because their people were the ones as a collective society, we owe it to them to explain what happened and in the same manner if the same case happens to us,” Enrile said
Delon Porcalla, Philippine Star