Last Monday, August 23, 2010 was such a sad day. Twenty one Chinese tourists from Hong Kong and four Filipinos were held hostage in a bus. The 12 hours standoff ended in blood. 8 hostages were killed.
The hostage taker was Rolando Mendoza a disgruntled former police senior inspector who was fired from his job. Mendoza demanded to be reinstated and that his case is reviewed.
So what went wrong in the Quirino Grand stand hostage taking crisis ? Why did end up in such a mess? The mishandling of the hostage crisis has really put the Philippines in a bad standing with the international community.
Before I begin this post, let me bluntly say that I am no expert on this. I have not taken any courses on public safety, criminology, negotiating or anything else relating to hostage taking. Nor do I have the experience. I am no expert when it comes to this matter.
However despite this, it is very obvious that there are just plain and obvious things that should have been done last Monday that could have ended the hostage crisis peacefully. Even non experts such as me can come to this conclusion.
1.) They should have never made the hostage taker angry – Veteran hostage negotiator, former Manila police chief and now judge, Jimmy Santiago who has successfully done several hostage negotiations in the past has said that it is very important that in hostage negotiations, the hostage taker should never be made angry. A hostage taker isn’t in his right mind anymore. Steps should be taken to ensure that the hostage taker is not annoyed or angered as it will make him resort to drastic measures.
I do not know what the police had in mind when they arrested the brother of Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza. Certainly this is a mistake. Everybody including experts agree that this is what triggered the hostage taker to shoot the hostages. If the police believe that the brother is an accessory to the crime, they should have dealt with the problem later. What they should have solved first is the current hostage situation.
2.) A news black out should have been implemented – The police should have considered the possibility that the hostage taker has been monitoring the news. The outcome would have been different if the hostage taker didn’t hear about what happened to his brother.
3.) Lack of leadership – Everything rises and falls on leadership. Where were the top brass of the Philippine National Police (PNP) during this time? Considering that this was an event of international significance no less than the chief of the National Capital Region or even the chief of the PNP should have been there to devote the entire resources of the command to the situation. Considering that a policeman is involved in the hostage taking, it is without doubt that he would reconsider his actions if the top command of the PNP was directly negotiating with him.
4.) Lack of resolve – Why didn’t the ground commander or the PNP leadership take advantage of opportunities? They certainly lack the resolved to do so.
Sometime in the afternoon, the hostage taker let out some hostages. He stood on the bus front door for several seconds and even had time to waive to the people around him. It was a very clean shot. If I am not mistaken they had two opportunities wherein the got a very clean shot. The ground commander should have given a go signal to the sniper to incapacitate him (not necessarily kill him) by shooting him on the legs and then had the SWAT storm the bus.
The PNP – SWAT cannot make an excuse that they cannot make a clean shot because they lack the necessary equipment. According to Wikipedia, the Marine Scout Sniper Riffle (MSSR) is used by the PNP SWAT .
Why was not the PNP – SAF (Special action force) utilized to handle this crisis? According to Wikipedia the PNP –SAF is trained by the US FBI the French RAID and the Israeli Ya’mam. The SAF is also more equipped than the ordinary PNP SWAT units. Although the SAF’s main concern is counter terrorism, the SAF can perform other tasks as the Chief PNP may direct.
PNP spokesperson Senior Supt. Agrimero Cruz said that during the crisis, the SAF was already on stand by. Why didn’t they let the SAF handle the job when it became very obvious that after several minutes the SWAT were acting like a bunch of wet chicks huddling around the bus. This clearly shows the lack of resolve on the part of the PNP leadership.
5.) Lack of training & equipment – The SWAT team didn’t have the equipment to eave’s drop on what is happening inside the bus. That could have given them a tactical advantage. (Where were those bugging devices used during the elections?) Don’t they have micro snake like cameras, the ones we frequently see in the movies ?They didn’t have the equipment to make a quick entry to the windows or doors. All they had was a sledge hammer. Most of them didn’t even have radios !
Some SWAT members had equipment like the shield which can withstand bullets even from an M16. But even if they had shields, they were still very hesitant to storm the bus.
In the youtube video below you can observe how pathetic the SWAT team looked like when they tried to engage the bus. They seemed not to know what they are doing. A lot of them huddled in just one place. One blogger wrote that if the hostage taker had thrown a grenade at them when they were all at the back of the bus there would more that would have died.
Now compare the actions of the PNP – SWAT with the Serbian Special forces.
The conduct on how the assault was conducted was such a mess that the word “SWAT” has become a joke. SWAT is suppose to stand for “Special Weapons And Tactics” its suppose to represent an elite tactical unit that performs high risk operations that cannot be handled by regular police officers. Now it has become the butt of jokes. They say SWAT now stands for “Sana Wag Akong Tamaan” (I wish I’ll not be hit), “Super Wala Akong Training” (Super I have not training), “Sugod, Wait Atras Tago” (Forward, wait, backward, hide), “Sorry We Aren’t Trained” and the most ideal because of what has happened “Sorry We Acted Timidly.”
I don’t know if the SWAT team realized that their shameful, incompetent performance was shown worldwide! Now people all over the world will say, “If thats how the SWAT team in the Philippines performs, we wonder how the ordinary regular officers perform!.” If this problem isn’t solve then foreigners would better take a Royal Caribbean cruise than come to the Philippines.
But I don’t agree that Philippine Police are lacking in training. In fact they spend a lot of time in simulation training in times of crisis. They even use the latest simulation equipment for training. See for yourselves.
For an expert analysis you might want to read the “Ten things the Philippines bus siege police got wrong” featured in the BBC website which is written by Charles Shoebridge, a security analyst who has worked in counter-terrorism with the British Army and Scotland Yard.