Interior undersecretray admits no training in hostage situations
Nikko Dizon and Marlon Ramos
PNP director general Jesus Verzosa and Chief Supt. Rodolfo Magtibay also testified separately for over two hours.
Verzosa admitted that he could have rectified some lapses committed by the police if he were in the area during critical moments in the negotiation.
He said he flew to Cagayan de Oro City on that day to attend an “official function” despite being told four hours earlier that a dismissed policeman was holding captive a busload of Hong Kong tourists.
‘It happened in Manila’
Libarios asked Puno:
Puno said the local crisis committee was constantly in charge but that the national crisis committee, which he headed, was on “standby” in case the situation worsened.
Puno described the incident as “a local hostage-taking situation” that could be handled by the police district director and the city mayor.
The committee granted Puno’s request to explain behind closed doors why the incident was deemed a “local crisis” only. Verzosa joined the executive session.
Libarios pressed on: “So, the primary consideration in the determination of level of response is the identity of the perpetrator? You did not consider the identity of the potential victims of the crisis situation, which could change the magnitude of and the potential government response to the crisis situation?”
He added that the foreign affairs, social welfare and development, tourism, justice, and health departments had been given “instructions” on what to do in case the situation came to be classified as a national crisis.
“The mindset was this was a local incident... Was there any dissenting opinion by anyone, whether by members of the local crisis committee or the national crisis committee, which was on standby?” she said.
Puno admitted that he was not trained to handle hostage situations. But he took responsibility for the bungled rescue operation.
“I am not capable of handling hostage situations, I am not trained to do that. I do not have the experience to handle hostage negotiations,” Puno said.
He agreed with De Lima when she wondered whether this was the reason he “left the negotiators to do their own thing”.
“But I have also verbal instructions from the President to oversee the PNP,” he said.
De Lima asked Puno if it was confirmed that there was “such an order from the President that you will take care or handle the PNP”.
“Especially on the movements and logistical requirements, and to study certain aspects that would be helping in the operations,” he said.
He added that his role was to observe and give support to the police in terms of logistics and manpower.
Libarios questioned Magtibay, the ground commander, on the possible deaths of four of the Hong Kong tourists during the police assault.
Magtibay said he could not confirm Libarios’ statement, but said that if that were the case, “(the) SWAT team, I believe, cannot share the blame alone for that.”
“They tried their best and in fact we avoided a worst scenario whereby all the hostages, including the hostage-taker, will die during the assault,” he said.
Magtibay said he did not abandon his post.
He said he had followed Lim’s instructions for him to proceed to the restaurant “to continue our discussion” with Puno and Chief Supt. Leocadio Santiago, the chief of the National Capital Region Police Office.
Verzosa was questioned by the committee on his absence and his decision to let Manila Police District (MPD) officials handle the situation.
De Lima asked Verzosa if he had the authority to make replacements after the hostage-taker expressed disgust over the chief negotiator, Supt. Orlando Yebra.
De Lima sought Verzosa’s assessment of Magtibay’s decision to arrest Mendoza’s brother, SPO2 Gregorio Mendoza, for allegedly conniving with the hostage-taker.
The arrest, which was aired live on TV, enraged Mendoza and pushed him to open fire on the hostages.
He said he had thought of calling Magtibay to relay instructions on how to handle the situation, but decided not to.
Verzosa said the police failed to control the crowd during the hostage crisis.
He said crowd control involved keeping away not only kibitzers but also the media, the police, and other personalities who should not be at the site of a hostage-taking.
“There was a mix-up,” Verzosa said under questioning by Basbaño.
Like Puno, Verzosa said he was confident that Magtibay was capable of ensuring a peaceful end to the hostage crisis because Mendoza was cooperative with the police during the early hours.
“There were two considerations in having the MPD address it—(Mendoza) was from the MPD and Magtibay said they can probably settle with the hostage-taker because he was cooperative,” the PNP chief said.
“In various stages, (the negotiation) was proceeding very well,” he said, adding that he was continuously talking with Magtibay to give instructions.
Verzosa said Mendoza’s disposition suddenly changed when he saw the letter from the Office of the Ombudsman stating that it would review his dismissal from the PNP.
“That was the tipping point. His character just changed from then on,” Verzosa said.
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