Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Quirino Hostage - August 23, 2010

Today, August 24, as my running buddies and I were doing our usual jog around Quirino Grandstand, we stopped at what remained from a scene of one of the bloodiest hostage events in Manila. The Hong Thai bus, with its tempered glass shattered and sheets bloodied, still remained in the Quirino Grandstand as journalists and bystanders stood and reminisced how this 12-hour standoff took place and ended in a bloody manner. I saw a few Chinese journalists there, and a few in front of Manila Pavilion, the hotel where these hostages, some Hong Kong nationals, were billeted. No one could imagine how this supposedly "under control" hostage situation would end up in a bloody way.

My office is just a few blocks away from the scene. As I mentioned earlier, we do a few laps in the Grandstand at least twice a week. Never did we think that this generally peaceful tourist destination would bear witness to one of the most violent hostage situations in our nation's capital.

Whose fault is it? To me, it's everybody's fault. The media, the police, the negotiators, the ground commander. All of them contributed for this to incident to go haywire.

The media are supposed to be the bastion of truth and the bearer of all information. What the media showed yesterday are very limited, and every movement of the hostage-taker's family was sensationalized. One of the biggest reasons for this tragedy is the sight of Captain Rolando Mendoza's brother being "arrested" by the police. I place quotation marks to the word arrest because as what the police said, they did not arrest him. But because he saw a few mediamen, he acted as if he was being persecuted. What did the media people do? They approached him, bloated the scene, and delivered the wrong message. This triggered Capt. Mendoza to get hostile.

There were several negotiators involved. No one was in charge. It was every man for himself. I am not an expert in hostage situations but judging from the way this was handled, no one took this seriously and nobody headed the team. And for that, nobody thought of a way to expedite this situation.

The police obviously are not prepared for these types of crises. If it were a more insane hostage-taker, these policemen could have been killed because their movements were too slow. As me and my officemates were discussing about this today, the way the police acted yesterday was similar to a Three Stooges or your regular slapstick police sitcom. They could not break through the hydraulic door. They tried to pull the door out but the rope cut loose. They tried to throw in tear gas and flashbang, and some haven't found their way inside. One tear gas actually bounced out of the bus, leaving the policemen outside coughing because of the putrid smell. After the incident, rescuers needed to go in and out of the bus because of the smell of the tear gas. Gas masks were never found in the scene. After the situation, crowds of people were able to get near the supposedly dangerous crime scene. No cordoning took place. Obviously, a lot of work should be done by the police force in order to get smarter in situations like this. We just were not prepared at all.

However way we look at this situation, there were obvious and apparent lapses on all parts, from all persons involved. In this day and age where people have become more intelligent, thus tend to get more insane, we, the media, the police force, government, should all be prepared for crises such as this. This just showed that the real action is not within the four walls of Congress and Senate, it is in the streets where nobody pays attention to. We often take mundane things for granted only to find out that some day, one person just snaps out of it, draws out a gun and starts shooting. It's about time we wake up, face the real social problems, and deal with them head on.

To those governments who condemn this incident by issuing a travel warning, please remember that this incident is isolated and should not be received on a large scale. We are trying our best to prevent another situation to happen. It is simply unfair for you to judge us for an isolated case. I hope you reconsider.

Let us pray to the victims that they may rest in peace. Let us also pray that this will never happen again.

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