PNS — To each his own thing, in negotiating releases of hostages, Philippine style.
Police hostage negotiator Supt. Orlando Yebra appeared before the inter-agency body investigating the Quirino Grandstand botched hostage rescue last Aug. 23 which resulted in the deaths of eight Chinese HongKong tourists along with the hostage taker, sacked police officer Rolando Mendoza.
Yebra admitted before the Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC), that the Aug. 23 hostage-taking negotiation was a failure since lives were lost as he cited that the Philippine National Police (PNP) has no hostage-taking situation manual to guide hostage negotiators in dealing with this kind of serious scenario.
The country’s image is getting worse internationally, however. Some 1,000 package tours to the Philippines after eight Hong Kong tourists were killed in a bus hijacking in Manila, have been canceled, China’s state media said Monday
During the resumption of clarificatory hearings, Yebra, who was designated chief negotiator, also said the PNP has no official negotiating team to deal with hostage-taking situations.
At the same time, two IICR teams composed of prosecutors from the Department of Justice (DoJ) and officials from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) team left yesterday for Hong Kong to interview survivors as well as to possibly retrieve evidence that was inadvertently turned over to Hong Kong authorities.
Yebra said he had already made the suggestion to the PNP to come out with an official hostage-taking situation manual for hostage-taking negotiators but the law enforcement agency has yet to act upon the proposal. He also recommended to the PNP hierarchy to create a team to handle such hostage-taking incidents.
“There is none (manual) specifically for negotiators to follow during tense stand-offs with hostage-taker or hostage-takers,” he said.
With the absence of the PNP manual to hostage-taking situation, Yebra said they have to make do as they go along and to use the steps provided in the crisis management manual.
“There is revised standard operating procedure for hostage scenario but it has yet to take effect this time. What I know, the CMC used the old one (crisis management committee manual),” he said, adding that they have to rely on instincts and past experiences in dealing with such incidents. “There is need for an official manual to guide negotiators step by step in dealing with such intense scenarios.”
Since there is no official team to resolve hostage-taking, Yebra said he agreed to become a negotiator on that day because “he has an oath to fulfill which is to help the people and maintain peace and order.”
Yebra also told the committee that the crisis management committee (CMC) was unprepared and ill-equipped to handle high-profile hostage-taking incidents like the Aug. 23 hostage-taking.
The CMC, according to Yebra, appeared to have no “concrete structures” in addressing hostage-takings, noting that the CMC lacked time in formulating a concrete plan on that specific time and that specific hostage-taking.
He aid there was no chance to talk about the composition of the team. “I found out that they automatically do the connection, installation,” said Yebra.
He also admitted the exact role of Chief Inspector Romeo Salvador as another negotiator was not “official and clear” and that the composition of the intelligence unit of the crisis committee was also not defined.
“I already presumed that, that function was already been handled by the intelligence team of the MPD (Manila Police District). There was no proper instruction to any member of that team. There was no formal communication and I only talked to Chief Supt. Rodolfo Magtibay,” said Yebra. “I did not receive information from intelligence group. How important? Very crucial. I have no other details aside from the information from Salvador. I didn’t even know how many hostages there were. Honestly, I have not seen any from the command post (referring to other members of the CMC). No communication from the intelligence and I don’t have knowledge that the handling was topsy-turvy behind my negotiation,” Yebra explained.
Yebra said the letter from the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO), assuring him that the order of dismissal was deferred arrived at 8 p.m. Monday and the assault had already started. He said he was trying to call up the hostage-taker and then he found out that the assault had already started.
“There was nothing of that sort (signals). What I saw was the driver coming out of the bus. I saw him run at about 8 p.m. I attempted to reach officials, but there was no longer any contact,” he said.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima asked Yebra if the negotiation was a failure, and admitted that it was.
“ I want to clarify. It is not with me that things (the assault) have to be cleared. The assault can be done anytime even during negotiation. Nothing is in written or unwritten protocols. The assault can be done anytime and the ground commander can order an assault anytime,”
There were scheduled closed door meetings with Yebra and other officials who sought an executive session, which means that transparency has again been sarificed.
The Justice Secretary said two IIRC teams were directed to fly to Hong Kong yesterday as she was told that eight cellular phones found from the bus involved in the hostage-taking drama were turned over to Hong Kong authorities.
For Malacañang, the message is “Let the investigation take its course.”
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda turned to the ongoing proceedings in the IlRC when asked to give his feedback on the statement issued Sunday by Sen. Joker Arroyo who said that President Aquino’s decision to own up responsibility for everything that happened last Aug. 23 amounted to nothing and has instead cheapened the presidency.
“I think the fact that there is an investigation committee that is ongoing, that will show who were responsible for the incident. I think, let’s wait for the report of the investigation committee to come out and it will be submitted to the President and he will study the recommendation,” Lacierda said.
When asked for his explanation on the statement made by his principal he said. “I think what he (Aquino) meant there (assuming full responsibility) was that of his being the Chief Executive, that’s primarily it, he was apprised of the situation and the incident happened during his administration—that’s it,” Lacierda said.
The Palace spokesman was also unable to come up with a categorical statement when asked if it is only appropriate for the Cabinet officials concerned to tender their resignations in the spirit of delicadeza if they are found liable for mishandling the crisis situation in Quirino Grandstand two weeks ago.
“If the results come out, we’ll cross the bridge when we get there. We don’t know yet what will be the results of the investigation. The investigation we believe is credible and independent, fair, as well as thorough. Once they submit the report to the President then we’ll see,” Lacierda said.
He said apart from former Manila Police District (MPD) director Gen. Rodolfo Magtibay and Philippine National Police (PNP) Dir. Gen. Jesus Verzosa who opted to go for an early retirement after what happened, no other officials from Aquino’s Cabinet and other agencies have offered to tender their resignations in light of what happened.
Malacañang also begged off from commenting on the several lapses that the IIRC has unearthed so far during the course of its investigation that have been committed by the authorities who failed to deliver the best outcome in their crisis management.
Lacierda, meanwhile, practically downplayed the analysts’ findings as well as widespread observations that the public’s trust and confidence with Aquino have been eroded due to his apparent failure in living up to their expectations when the crisis occurred.
“I think the trust is still there. I’m not a social scientist so I will not be in the position to say if it was really affected. Let us allow the professionals to make a study out of the situation—post-incident and as well as aspects… I guess we better have an investigation, a report, if it comes out, let’s make a comparison on what happened during the incident and the steps after the incident. Only there can we draw conclusions if things have changed,” Lacierda explained.
Moreover, Lacierda said the corrective measures promised by the President last week may likely be announced this week or until the IIRC finishes its investigation on the matter insofar as the landmines that they said they have unearthed at the PNP are concerned.
“We are currently reviewing the Philippine National Police, independent of the probe, what happened during the incident and what were the deficiencies found in the PNP. That will be presented, I think, this week,” the Palace spokesman stressed.
Lacierda has denied reports that Aquino had ordered Verzosa to dismiss some of the top-ranking PNP officials who reportedly purchased substandard police gears that apparently led to the police force’s incompetence in attending to crisis situations.
He also claimed that the PNP has an existing manual on how to conduct risky operations during hostage situations contrary to the statement made by MPD Supt. Yebra when he was grilled by the IIRC.
“To my knowledge there are manuals. There is a police manual on hostage taking. It’s a PNP manual operation actually. We are now reviewing the manuals and updating them,” Lacierda told reporters.
The crisis has caused a strain in the diplomatic ties between the Hong Kong and Chinese governments, on the one hand ,and the Philippines, on the other.
Legislators in Hong Kong have reportedly demanded that the Philippine government provide compensation to the families of the slain tourists but Lacierda said they have not decided on this matter yet.
“Now is not the appropriate time to discuss compensation with the Hong Kong victims. They’re in a period of grief so we have no decision yet on the compensation,” Lacierda explained when asked if this compensation will be shouldered personally by Aquino given his statement that he is taking full responsibility over everything that transpired last Aug. 23.
Meanwhile, the word from Beijing is that travelers from Hong Kong and mainland China have canceled more than 1,000 Philippine package tours after eight Hong Kong tourists were killed in a bus hijacking in Manila, state media said Monday.
The Philippine tourism industry could suffer resulting losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next three months, the China Daily reported, citing Philippine Department of Tourism Undersecretary Simeon Marfori.
It said Marfori was speaking at an international travel forum in southern China.
Hong Kong tourists accounted for one in 10 of all inbound tourists to the Philippines while Chinese tourists represented the highest growth market of visitors to the country, Marfori said. The report provided no other figures.
The day after the botched hostage rescue operations, China’s National Tourism Administration urged its citizens traveling to the Philippines to exercise caution.
The Aquino administration did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment on Monday.
A Shanghai-based customer service representative at China International Travel Service (CITS), who declined to be named, said the travel agency stopped offering group tours to the Philippines after the hijacking.
“People were scared. No one wants to go there. Service will resume only after the impact of the hostage incident subsides,” she said.
She added CITS would offer no package tours to the southeast Asian country during the National Day holiday in October, a peak season for Chinese tourism.