MANILA, Philippines – The Chinese government expressed appreciation yesterday for the release of the incident investigation and review committee (IIRC) report by the Philippines last Monday regarding the hostage crisis that resulted in the death of eight Hong Kong tourists and the hostage taker in Manila last Aug. 23.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said since it is a long report, the Chinese side does need time for a careful study. The initial reading indicates that the Philippine side takes a sincere and serious manner in handling and looking into the incident, to which the Chinese side expresses its appreciation.
The Chinese embassy in Manila received the IIRC report that was forwarded to the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
“We hope that the Philippine side continues to handle the aftermath in an appropriate manner, so as to console the souls of the victims and render comfort to the bereft families and injured Hong Kong compatriots. We also hope that the Philippine side takes effective measures to strengthen protection of the Chinese personnel in the Philippines and prevent the reoccurrence of similar tragedies. The Chinese side stands ready to work with the Philippine side to advance the bilateral relations in a sound and steady manner,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Hong Kong residents on Tuesday criticized as incomplete a scathing report from the Philippine government detailing the mishandling of the bus hostage crisis.
The report – which said leaders communicated poorly with the hostage taker, a fired policeman, and called police inadequately trained – came as President Aquino tried to repair ties with China, where the attack sparked outrage.
The report, released Monday, singled out Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim and Manila Police chief Rodolfo Magtibay, who left for a nearby restaurant shortly before gunman Rolando Mendoza started shooting the hostages.
It accused Magtibay of “gross insubordination” for defying presidential orders to use an elite commando unit instead of a local SWAT team that struggled to storm the bus after shots were heard.
Lim’s approach of trying to wait out the situation was “made with utter disregard of any experience and training in hostage-taking incidents,” the report said.
There was no immediate comment from Beijing on the 83-page report, though the Hong Kong government praised the investigation committee for criticizing and recommending action against Philippine officials.
Many in the territory, however, said the investigation left too much unanswered.
Hong Kong legislator Ronny Tong said the report’s biggest flaw was its inability to rule out that friendly fire had killed some of the tourists.
The report said while available evidence supports the conclusion that Mendoza killed all eight Hong Kong tourists, this needed to be confirmed by ballistic testing.
Philippine officials have previously said police bullets may have hit some of the victims.
Tong said while the findings of official wrongdoing help pave the way for victims to seek financial damages, “the report has not achieved the goal of uncovering the truth.”
Survivor Li Yick-biu, who was among an early batch of hostages released by Mendoza, complained the report didn’t explain how another badly wounded hostage was hurt, the South China Morning Post reported on Tuesday.
Youngster Jason Leung remains in a coma from a serious head injury.
The Leung family, Hong Kong natives who hold Canadian passports, have become an emotional focal point in the aftermath of the tragedy.
Mother Amy Ng is the only member who escaped unscathed. Her husband and two other children were killed.
“The tragedy reflects the serious corruption in the Philippines, in government and police,” Li was quoted as saying.
Hong Kong’s Apple Daily said in a front-page headline the report “has not done justice to the victims.”
Though the Hong Kong government took a more diplomatic approach, calling the investigation “serious,” it also demanded definitive answers on how the eight victims were killed.
A Hong Kong court has ordered Hong Kong police to conduct their own investigation and may call a hearing based on the findings.
President Aquino identified last Monday the 13 government officials and private individuals, including three media men, which the IIRC had recommended to be charged in connection with the botched rescue operations during the hostage crisis at the Rizal Park in Manila.
Aquino also 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 rescue operations.
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 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 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.
The Manila police chief earlier went on leave while five other police officers were relieved because of their hesitation and lapses during the assault on the tourist bus where dismissed policeman Mendoza held the 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.
HK officials want complete probe
Hong Kong officials urged the Philippine government to continue its efforts to complete the investigation to give justice to the eight victims killed in the hostage crisis in Manila even as the Chinese government acknowledged the IIRC report.
A government spokesman issued a statement the other night after receiving a copy of the IIRC report from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China.
“We want to reiterate that the incident is a heart-wrenching tragedy. As shown by the Philippine investigation report, it could have been avoided. We sincerely hope that the Philippine authorities could continue with their efforts in dealing with the aftermath properly. This includes taking action against the negligent officers, following up with the investigation, and dealing with the matter in a fair manner so that the call for justice can be answered,” the spokesman said.
The Hong Kong government also vowed to continue working with the Philippine authorities to determine the causes of death of the eight hostage victims and injury of seven others.
“We expect the Philippine authorities to step up their efforts to complete the work as soon as possible. Philippine authorities and we have been cooperating well in this regard. To this end, we will continue to work closely with the Philippine authorities to facilitate communication between the two sides for further investigation and follow-up forensic and ballistic examinations,” the government spokesman said.
The IIRC report and the Hong Kong Police’s investigation report when completed would be submitted to the Coroner’s Court to determine whether or not to hold a hearing.
The Hong Kong Police has performed autopsies on the hostage victims, and talked to the survivors as part of their investigation.
“We firmly believe that the Coroner’s Court will make a fair and professional judgment. It will be inappropriate for us to comment on the causes of death because of the pertaining judiciary proceedings,” the government spokesman said.
The Hong Kong government’s travel alert against the Philippines is still in place following the Aug. 23 hostage tragedy as Chinese officials advised their citizens to avoid traveling to the Philippines.
Ombudsman forms special probe team
The Office of the Ombudsman created a five-man special investigating panel which will start its own investigation of the hostage-taking incident.
Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez said a team from the anti-graft agency’s Field Investigation Office (FIO) headed by Assistant Ombudsman Joselito Fangon has been tasked to handle the job and submit a report within 30 days.
The creation of the panel was in response to a letter received by the Office of the Ombudsman from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) asking it to conduct a full investigation into the hostage tragedy.
The letter sent by Southern District Councilors Henry Chai Man Hon and Andrew Fung Wai Kwong dated Aug. 24, 2010, which was received only last Sept. 16 is being treated as a formal “complaint against the incapability of police force of the Philippines in solving the Manila hostage crisis.”
The Hong Kong government also said a probe against the police should be initiated.
The HKSAR requested the Ombudsman to determine whether there was any injustice in the way the PNP handled the hostage crisis.
Gutierrez said “the investigation shall cover the entire incident and determine the liabilities/culpabilities, if any, not only of the elements of the PNP involved in the hostage-rescue operation, but also of all public officials and private persons having a role therein.”
The panel will also pick up from where the IIRC left off, which raised more issues and questions than answers considering that the Office of the Ombudsman is the proper authority to determine whether prosecution in court against the government and police officials involved in the failed operation is warranted, including private persons, as well as conduct administrative proceedings against the former, if necessary.
Assistant Ombudsman and spokesman Jose de Jesus Jr. added that the investigation would be based on law, evidence, rules of court, and jurisprudence, not on emotion.
Michael Punongbayan, Philippine Star