ANOTHER TRAGEDY IN MANILA—9 hostages killed in Manila by ex-policeman
By Kevin A. Stoda
Less than ten days after I reported from Ermita and Rizal Park area in Manila in a book review of mine,
there was a major hostage crises of a Hong Kong tour bus that left at least nine dead here on Monday in the Philippines.
I will print (below) a few news articles in full-below, so you can here the current state of affairs, i.e. as reported in regional media. I think the articles on this case share how years of corruption, a run-amok military leadership, bad police force, and impunity in hijacking and killings continue to make Manila a no-go-zone for many tourists.
By the way, Philippine police and government are ranked 3rd in the World on the impunity list.
NOTE: Don’t forget that this massacre incident was not far from the USA Embassy and old Manila, where otherwise the tourism industry could be much stronger. Only last week, the government had announced plans to make downtown Manila a more appropriately developed and safer for tourism. Luckily, many other areas of the Philippines are safer and do have more effective tourism police.
9 killed on hijacked Philippine tourist bus
By JIM GOMEZ,Associated Press Writer – Tuesday, August 24
MANILA, Philippines – A 12-hour hostage drama aboard a hijacked Philippine bus ended in bloodshed Monday when an angry ex-policeman demanding his job back gunned down eight Hong Kong tourists before police stormed the vehicle and a sniper killed him.
At least seven captives survived, four of whom were seen crawling out the back door of the bus after Philippine police stormed it Monday evening when the hostage-taker started shooting at the 15 Chinese tourists inside, said police Senior Superintendent Nelson Yabut.
He said the hostage-taker was killed with a sniper shot to the head after he wounded a police sharpshooter.
Police and ambulances were lined up next to the vehicle in the pouring rain after the standoff ended. Local hospitals reported seven bodies of hostages were brought in. One other hostage was hospitalized in critical condition, and five others were unharmed.
Two of the surviving hostages were wounded in serious condition and the remaining five are under observation, Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang told reporters in the Chinese territory as he expressed shock and anger at the police response.
The bloodshed rattled the Philippines and raised questions about police ability to deal with hostage-takings.
“How can I be satisfied when there were people who died?” Philippine President Benigno Aquino III told reporters late Monday. But he said the situation deteriorated rapidly from the time the hostage-taker initially showed willingness to release his hostages.
Hong Kong issued a warning against travel to the Philippines and requested that Hong Kong tourists still in the country return. All upcoming tour groups were also canceled.
“I am very saddened by this tragedy. I am angered by the cold-blooded behavior of this murderer,” said Tsang, the Hong Kong leader.
The crisis began when the dismissed policeman, Rolando Mendoza, 55, armed with a M16 rifle seized the busload of Hong Kong tourists to demand his reinstatement in the force.
According to newspaper reports from 2008, he was among five officers who had been charged with robbery, extortion and grave threats after a Manila hotel chef filed a complaint alleging the policemen falsely accused him of using drugs to extort money.
Mendoza released nine hostages during the afternoon _ leaving 15 inside. Those freed included two women, three children, a diabetic man and three Filipinos _ including a tour guide and a photographer, police said.
Despite hopes that negotiations could bring the stand-off to a peaceful conclusion, tensions escalated as night closed in.
Police said they stormed the bus after they saw Mendoza open fire on hostages. Crouching outside the vehicle, commandos in flak jackets, used a hammer to bash in side windows, the door and windscreen, although it was some time before they eventually gained entry.
Moments before the commandos moved in, the Filipino bus driver fled. Police officer Roderick Mariano cited him as saying Mendoza had opened fire at the tourists.
The Hong Kong tourists had been on a visit to Manila and had been due to fly back to the Chinese territory on Monday, according to tour operator Hong Thai Travel Services Ltd.
Mendoza seized the bus after hitching a ride as it traveled with the tourists from the historic walled city of Intramuros. Police said he then “declared he is taking the passengers hostage” when the bus reached Jose Rizal Park alongside Manila Bay _ a downtown area of the sprawling Philippine capital where the U.S. Embassy and a number of hotels are located.
Police sharpshooters took positions around the white-blue-red bus, and the road was sealed off, with ambulances and fire trucks positioned nearby. Police brought in food for the hostages as well as fuel so that the air conditioning unit can keep running as the outside temperature reached about 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius).
The standoff was covered live on television. The curtains on the bus windows were drawn and two police negotiators could be seen walking to and from the bus and communicating with Mendoza from the window near the driver’s seat.
A Chinese diplomat had appealed for restraint on the part of the Philippine authorities and not to jeopardize the hostages safety.
Bai Tian, deputy mission chief at the Chinese Embassy who was monitoring the negotiations, said the hostages were “calm and peaceful.” Speaking to reporters in the afternoon, he said they wanted every step taken “to secure the safety and security of our Chinese nationals.”
Mendoza’s younger brother, Gregorio, also a policeman, said that his brother felt that “injustice was done on him” when he had been fired from his job.
“He was disappointed that he did well in police service but was dismissed for a crime he did not do,” he said.
Apart from demanding his reinstatement, Mendoza had also wanted to talk to the Philippine media and asked that his son _ also a policeman _ be brought to him. He scribbled some of his demands on paper and plastered it on the bus windows and a windshield.
A representative from the ombudsman’s office talked to Mendoza on the phone and had promised to look into his case again, Mendoza’s brother, Florencio, told reporters. Another brother of Mendoza also helped police in the negotiations, Manila police chief Rodolfo Magtibay said.
Law enforcement is weak in the Philippines, and hostage-takings for ransom are not uncommon.
In March 2007, not far from the scene of Monday’s hostage-taking, a man took a busload of children and teachers hostage from his day-care center in Manila to denounce corruption. They were freed after a 10-hour standoff.
Associated Press writers Teresa Cerojano and Min Lee in Hong Kong contributed to this report
Mayhem in Manila: 9 killed on hijacked tourist bus
By JIM GOMEZ,Associated Press Writer – 1 hour 5 minutes ago
MANILA, Philippines – It looked like a hostage rescue in slow motion: Police creeping up on the bus with sledgehammers and smashing first one window, then another, then trying and failing to rip open the door.
When they finally got inside, authorities said, they found nine bodies: eight Hong Kong tourists and the ex-policeman who had seized the bus to demand his job back.
The bloody denouement to the 12-hour drama in the heart of the Philippine capital, witnessed live on TV, rattled a country already accustomed to kidnappings and violence blamed on Muslim rebels. It provoked demands from the Hong Kong government for an explanation, and an acknowledgment from Philippine President Benigno Aquino III that his police need more training and equipment.
It was 10:15 a.m. Monday in Manila when Rolando Mendoza, 55 and married with three children, hitched a ride with the tourists as they visited historic sites in the city. He wore a camouflage uniform and carried an M16 rifle but didn’t seem unusual in the heavily policed capital.
Then he announced that he was taking the travelers hostage to win back his job.
According to newspaper reports, the former senior inspector was among five officers who had been charged with robbery, extortion and grave threats after a Manila hotel chef filed a complaint alleging they falsely accused him of using drugs to extort money. Mendoza was fired last year but claimed he was innocent.
With the bus parked on a Manila park parade ground, Mendoza stuck leaflets on windows, handwritten in English, saying “big mistake to correct a big wrong decision,” demanding media attention and threatening “big deal will start after 3 p.m. today.”
At first, matters proceeded peacefully. The hijacker freed nine hostages _ three women, three children and two men _ leaving 15 tourists on board. Police sealed the area and brought food for the hostages, along with fuel to keep the bus’ air conditioning running in the 32-degree-Celsius (90 F) heat.
Then negotiations began to go awry. Mendoza demanded a signed promise that his case would be reviewed, but its delivery was delayed for hours, in part by Manila’s notorious traffic, and when it finally arrived he rejected it as insufficient.
The hijacker’s brother Gregorio, a policeman, was flown in to talk to him through the driver’s window but grew so agitated in claiming Mendoza had been unfairly sacked that police hustled him away, fearing he would inflame the situation.
That apparently angered Mendoza into firing a warning shot. Police made an initial attempt to board the bus, and the hijacker shot and wounded a police sharpshooter, said Nelson Yabut, head of the assault team. Single shots, then a burst of automatic fire, echoed through the night.
The Filipino bus driver managed to escape and, according to police officer Roderick Mariano, reported that Mendoza had fired at the tourists.
A freed hostage who gave only her surname, Ng, told Hong Kong reporters that she saw her husband killed by Mendoza after he tried to take him on.
“He was very brave. He rushed forward from the back of the bus. He wanted to prevent the gunman from killing people. He sacrificed himself,” she said.
Yabut, the assault commander, said that “when he started shooting the hostages, that’s the time I gave the signal to my sniper to shoot when there is a clear view.” He said Mendoza died of a single shot to the head.
Shortly before 9 p.m., police lobbed tear gas into the bus and commandos approached the vehicle, crouching beside it and ready to storm it. They smashed windows and the back door with sledgehammers. Once aside, they found only the dead, one of them slumped on the bus steps.
The Hong Kong government did not hide its displeasure at the handling of the incident. It issued a warning against travel to the Philippines, canceled planned tour groups to the islands and asked Hong Kong tourists still in the country to leave.
The bloodbath happened in front of a grandstand where Aquino had been sworn in as president on June 30. After midnight he was back there, staring at the bloodstained, bullet-riddled bus.
Associated Press writers Teresa Cerojano, Hrvoje Hranjski and Min Lee in Hong Kong contributed to this report.
Culture of impunity reigns in Philippines, churches say
Church leaders from the Philippines have called on the United Nations to investigate more than 830 reported cases of extra-judicial killings since 2001 when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo came to power.
“Sustaining the vicious cycle of human rights violations is a culture of impunity practised by the government and its security forces that trace its roots to the Marcos dictatorship of the 1970s,” stated a 90-page report presented by the church leaders in March at the United Nations office in Geneva.
In a “call to action” addressed to the UN Human Rights Council, the leaders said they wanted an urgent UN fact-finding mission to investigate “the extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other forms of violations of human rights in the Philippines.”
They also urged a comprehensive review of the country’s criminal justice system by an independent commission.
The delegation included representatives of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, the Philippines Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, the Moro Christian People’s Alliance and the United Methodist Church in the United States.
Some of the delegation members had earlier been in Washington, D.C. where they called on lawmakers to ensure that U.S. military and development aid to the Philippine government would not be used to perpetrate human rights abuses.
“With this report, we hope the U.S. will reconsider its support to the Philippine military as various international and national fact-finding missions show that the unbridled political killings are linked to the Arroyo government’s counter-insurgency programme,” said Philippine Independent Church Supreme Bishop Godofredo David.
The chairperson of the council of churches, Bishop Ignacio Soliba of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, stressed the “critical urgency” of the report. The spate of killings, including church people, “was never before seen and experienced by the Philippines churches,” he said.
A report published in February by an official commission probing the allegations said there was evidence that military commanders were responsible for “allowing, tolerating and even encouraging” the killings of activists, church workers, journalists and judges.
Presidential spokesperson Ignacio Bunye said Arroyo was doing everything she could to help stop the killings. “For better results, we need the cooperation of all concerned,” he said.
Ecumenical News International
PHILIPPINES IS THIRD ON GLOBAL IMPUNITY LIST
MANILA, Philippines (Update 1) – The massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao, including 32 media workers, has landed the Philippines as the top 3rd country in the world where journalists are murdered on a recurring basis and governments are unable or unwilling to prosecute the killers.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists on Tuesday said unpunished violence against mediamen in the Philippines soared last year, catapulting the country from 6th to 3rd in its annual Impunity Index.
The Index is a list of countries where journalists are killed regularly and governments fail to solve the crimes. Ranking is done by calculating the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of a country’s population.
In its report, the CPJ said the Maguindanao massacre “more than doubled the country’s impunity rating from the previous year.”
“In total, CPJ has recorded 55 unsolved murders (in the Philippines) over the last decade,” the report said.
It also noted that the massacre overshadowed gains made by Philippine authorities, after winning convictions in two journalist murders.
It also scored Philippine authorities for failing to grasp the seriousness of the problem, noting that a Supreme Court spokesman even dismissed as “ridiculous” alleged death threats against Newsbreak editor-in-chief Marites Vitug. (Read: Philippine journalist threatened anew, gets stalked)
The CPJ placed Iraq on top of the annual Impunity Index due to its 88 unsolved murders while Somalia was placed second on the list.
Other nations on the Impunity Index are Sri Lanka, Colombia, Afghanistan, Nepal, Russia, Mexico, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.
“We’ve heard repeated pledges from governments that the killers of journalists will face justice, but until these promises are fulfilled, media will continue to be targeted by those who believe they are above the law and immune from consequences,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director.
IFJ tells bets: Protect journalists
A global union of journalists’ groups on Tuesday challenged candidates for the May 10 presidential candidates to make a public commitment to overturn the country’s culture of impunity for the killing of journalists and to observe and respect the independence of the judiciary.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) issued the challenge following the decision of Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra to drop murder charges against 2 members of the Ampatuan clan who are believed responsible for the massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao last year.
“Less than a month before national elections on May 10, and five months after the massacre, this sudden announcement is alarming for what it says about the commitment of power-holders to end the culture of impunity for the killing of journalists,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said in a statement.
The IFJ said the decision of Agra, a former legal counsel of President Arroyo, suggests political interference in the judicial process.
It noted that the Ampatuan family is known for its support of the Arroyo government, and for involvement in voting irregularities that benefited President Arroyo in 2004 and 2007.
“The IFJ urges the Arroyo administration not to tarnish its record further by impeding justice at this late stage in its term of office. The Philippine government must allow the judicial system to determine the guilt or innocence of the two accused,” Park said.
The IFJ urged presidential candidates to disclose what steps they will take to ensure that the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippines National Police are fully trained in understanding their responsibility to provide safety and security for journalists. It said this is in accordance with the Philippine government’s obligations under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1738.
The IFJ said the Department of Justice should ensure that all court proceedings regarding the Maguindanao massacre are transparent and that the public is permitted to scrutinize the conduct of the trial.
It said the DOJ should set up a dedicated website to publish all court documents and proceedings. It added that broadcasts of the massacre trial must be permitted.