Sunday, August 14, 2011

Botched bus rescue

Philippine Police Slammed for Botched Bus Rescue

Aug 24, 2010

TAIPEI, Taiwan (Aug. 24) -- The Philippine police came in for a hail of criticism today after a botched raid on a hijacked bus left the perpetrator and eight of his hostages dead.

Critics leveled a litany of charges about Monday night's raid, faulting police for a chaotic command structure, failure to secure the crime scene, and allowing media to film the raid. There was also consternation that they had brought the hostage-taker's brother to the scene but then taken him into custody, and that they had no better means at hand to break into the bus than a sledgehammer.

Members of a Philippines police SWAT team begin their assault of the tourist bus seized by dismissed police officer Rolando Mendoza Monday at Manila's Rizal Park, Philippines.

The raid came 10 hours after Rolando Mendoza -- a 55-year-old former policeman disgruntled over having been fired -- boarded a tour bus armed with an assault rifle. Mendoza held the tourists from Hong Kong as hostages.

The Globe and Mail reported that when Mendoza boarded the bus there were 21 tourists and four locals aboard. During the standoff, he released some for medical and other reasons. When the police raid began, Mendoza was reportedly holding 15 hostages. Mendoza and eight of the hostages died in the final minutes of the siege.

The victims included Canadian-Chinese dual citizen Kam Wing Leung and his daughters, Song Yi (Jessie) Leung, 14, and Chung See (Doris) Leung, 21, according to the CBC.

In the semiautonomous Chinese territory of Hong Kong, flags flew at half-staff in mourning as residents voiced outrage over what was widely seen as a mishandled rescue operation. The Associated Press reported that demonstrators changed "You caused the deaths of Hong Kongers!" outside the consulate of the Philippines.

"It's disappointing that Hong Kong residents tried to make a pleasure trip to Manila and ended up with death and casualties," Hong Kong chief executive Donald Tsang told a news conference. "This is very tragic. And the way it was handled and particularly the outcome -- I found it disappointing."

Pete Troilo, director for business intelligence at Pacific Strategies and Assessments, a Manila-based security and political risk consultancy, said the fiasco reflected the Philippines' lack of sufficient police resources.

"The Philippines National Police and [the Army] have been plagued by a lack of training and equipment for decades, and there's really no movement to change that," said Troilo.

As one example, he said one strategy for storming the bus would have been to use a "small, controllable explosive" device to blow off the door of the bus, then a lightning entry into the bus by commandos.

Instead, police were televised live repeatedly trying and failing to bash their way in through the bus' windows with a sledgehammer. "The only thing that did was obstruct the view of what was happening inside the bus," Troilo said.

He noted, though, that a bus is "not the easiest target to assault" due to the nearly 360-degree view of the situation from inside the bus and the difficulty of penetrating into a narrow aisle where passengers can easily be used by the hostage-taker as human shields -- a strategy the perpetrator used Monday night, according to remarks by Philippines President Benigno Aquino III in a midnight press conference just hours after the raid.

Troilo said the botched raid highlighted a broader problem of poor handling of a range of crises, including kidnappings. "In the Philippines, these types of crisis-management situations typically turn into a frenzy," he said. "You have not only the media, but different politicians and power brokers trying to portray themselves as a leader in the situation, and you often have family members involved, which was the case here."

"So all of this turns into a sideshow, and it really detracts attention from the safety and security of the victims, and bringing the case to a quick resolution," Troilo said. "Unfortunately, in this case the melodrama cost lives."

One Filipino official told a local radio station that Mendoza was able to see police approaching the bus via footage he could view on a television inside the bus, according to GMA News. He also reportedly became agitated after seeing television reports showing police taking his brother into custody.

The official, Jesse Robredo, told Philippines media that protocol for media and crowd control in such crisis situations would be reviewed.

A police official told a local radio station that the hostage-taker turned belligerent after police attempted to arrest his brother, who was at the scene. He said the police lacked better equipment to penetrate the bus.

"In our inventory, the sledgehammer was the only thing we can use in the situation," he told a radio station, according to GMA News. "What we did not expect was the bus' windshield was strong enough to withstand blows from a sledgehammer."

Several Filipino congressmen criticized the police's handling of the hostage crisis, with one slamming the lack of a clear chain of command at the scene, according to, and another saying that "heads must roll" after the tragedy.

The Philippines human rights alliance Karapatan faulted the police for bungling the hostage crisis, and for not addressing the hostage-taker's "legitimate" grievances earlier -- though it condemned the manner in which he aired those grievances.

"The [Philippines police] grossly mishandled the hostage drama that caused the death of nine people and the wounding of others," a spokesman for the alliance said, according to the Manila Bulletin. "They should have handled this more delicately considering that many lives were at stake."

President Aquino offered his condolences to China and the people of Hong Kong for the loss of life in an address today. He promised more training for police forces to better handle future crises, and a full review of the botched raid.

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