Reflections on the Manila hostage-taking incident

Reflections on the Manila hostage-taking incident
by Primer Pagunuran

After the Manila hostage taking incident that exacted death toll to nine lives, hostages and the hostage taker himself, all roads seem to lead in one direction – a bureaucratic orgy – where all agencies of government meet together and map out all areas of concern to prevent a recurrence of this grim scenario in the future.

This phenomenal overdrive defies logic possibly illustrative of our demented national psyche of one form or other.

Be that as it may, not few things tend to be duplicated. Parallel investigations are initiated. Nearly every bureaucrat appears to be knowledgeable than being mere armchair expert on the subject. A whole bunch of recommendations translated in policy memoranda are produced.

Soon the nightmare will fade from our collective memory until the next hostage taking will re-occur and we shall see again, more of the same – police operatives expected to free the hostages end up the ones killing the latter in a shooting war that has gone wild.

The police operatives are said to have trained at the FBI, CIA or Scotland Yard where the best practices should have been taught. But when the actual scheme and scene are tested, everything seems to have been lost in translation. It does not make sense to leave the fate of hostages onto to their consequent undoing. They are just like any policeman known to share a powder-keg mentality.

In fact, PNP should be abolished or reintegrated back into the AFP system. In the higher scheme of things, we can look at the PNP as an ‘AFP bedevilled’ but not the other way around. Reintegration ought to open a lot of possibilities than a PNP left to its own and nearing its own institutional demise.

Available historical data show graphically that PNP tops the scoreboard for human rights violations, even more superior than the supposed-to-be enemies of the State such as the communists, extremists, separatists, or other criminal supremacists. Not remotely, the enforcement authorities from the PNP are the first ones that build these ‘shaky foundational structures’ that result in a justice system that anchor its legal foothold on some lousy police reports narratives or accounts.

Who are the individuals found in most jails? Are they the true criminals who actually perpetuated the crimes they were accused or convicted of or are they not just poor innocents with no means to fight their legal battles? Ordinary PNP authorities pretend to be lawyers and lawyers take for granted that the PNP authorities enforce the laws faithfully. The courts and the PNP become an organizational if not functional merger, a phenomenon that might compromise the ends of justice to some lesser or greater degree. And there could be viral contagion affecting not just enforcement but up the prosecutorial layer.

Let us go back to the scene – first things first.

What agency will come out with the findings of the ballistics tests done on all firearms used by the assaulting team of police operatives in order to reject or accept whatever theory could be related to the deaths of the hostages? Who will account on what firearms were actually used during the stand-off or shake-off that will be submitted for ballistics assuming all government-owned firearms have individual ballistics records?

How soon must the findings be out and forensic examinations on those killed to include the bullet holes that tore into the Hong Thai bus where hostages were trapped? What conclusions would that agency be willing to make full disclosure in public of? Wouldn’t there be a whitewash to save the image of the PNP or the State as a whole?

The hostage taking incident tells us few of those things. It does not require a single bullet shot from the sniper’s rifle to snuff off the life of a lone and un-escorted hostage taker? To see and hear how many bullets from the assaulting team were pampered into the bus until tomato juice comes out, matter-of-factly, is unsettling. It tells us offhand that the SWAT, individually or collectively, are grossly lacking in skill. What FBI-trained operatives make sense here?

We probably have relied on an institution that is unreliable. One case after another are regularly aired on TV replete with video clips that convince us how lousy our police organization is and what appears to be their vicious modus operandi – shoot a suspect when he is already without arm and fleeing – is just one of those. The raids they do tell us their gross disrespect of our sacred notion of human rights. They seem to be like ‘agitated’ souls whom no one ought to overcome.

In the end, if obliquely, hostage takers simply make public statements through their extraordinary course of action. Perhaps, we can call to mind similar incidents that share the same characteristics. One is the Fort Bonifacio stand-off which was led by Colonel Ariel Querubin. Another is the Oakwood mutiny in Makati led by now Sen. Trillanes. And so on. We should note however that the ‘intellectual virus’ in all these ‘armed statements’ deserves the creation of presidential commissions. Thus the Manila hostage taking incident deserves no less than one for its own class.

We can go on and on. We might even fail to see the act of cowardice that the Filipino driver of the bus has shown to a viewing world. What higher act of irresponsibility is that for a driver to leave everyone else whose lives are placed on danger? He thought only of himself than have made every possible action to free or let go his co-captives or co-hostages. One corner of our head might even think him a hero in the instant case.

Did we see how the police broke the glass windows by throwing the sledgehammer in when doing so might cause serious injury to the passengers on board? Why did the police operatives have to shoot the tires of the bus when they probably saw signs of it moving on? Why do the police have to hide with luminous sense of cowardice from concrete walls or behind cars and shoot as if no people will be injured or killed?

Something went wrong but just no one would police the Philippine National Police.