WASHINGTON D.C. - The botched August 2010 hostage incident at the Luneta demonstrated how woefully unprepared the government was to face a crisis, and served as a catalyst for seeking more help from anyone willing to give it.
The State Department has heeded that call, inviting 20 ranking Philippine officials to a week-long “Senior Crisis Management Seminar” here. The delegation is headed by Undersecretary Nabil Tan, Executive Director of the Anti-Terrorism Council, Sarangani Vice Governor Steve Salon and Makati Mayor Jejomar “Junjun” Binay Jr.
“There were a lot of lessons learned from the Luneta incident and this crisis management course is one of the continuing programs as a result of that incident,” explained Director Catalino Cuy, who until a few months ago was commander of the crack police Special Action Force (SAF).
He is now Director for Human Resources and Doctrine Development of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
“We can better respond to situations we have had in the past," Binay told ABS-CBN News. "Certain situations that could have been handled well if we had the appropriate training to handle certain scenarios.”
On Aug. 23, 2010 dismissed police officer Rolando Mendoza commandeered a bus laden with tourists from Hong Kong and demanded to be reinstated in the PNP.
Eight of the 21 tourists were killed after Mendoza reportedly starting shooting his hostages as the police assaulted the bus in a botched rescue attempt that played out on national television and quickly turned to be a national embarrassment.
The rescuers’ incompetence fueled indignation in Hong Kong and soured relations with China, forcing President Aquino to make an unprecedented and humbling public apology for the death of the hostages just months after assuming the reins of government.
“We learned how crisis management in the US is structured. We’re not doing cut-and-paste but we’re trying to learn as much as we can and bring it back to the country to see how it can be applied to the Philippines,” Binay stressed.
Cuy said the 147,000-man PNP has undergone profound changes since that the Luneta incident. “There’s been a lot of training, a lot of amendments and upgrading of operational procedures, and exchanges of expertise and training offered by foreign counterparts,” he explained.
Philippine Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. said the country welcomes more training assistance from the US to build its capacity to respond more effectively to various crises, especially the threat from terrorism.
“We are thankful for the various training programs the US has been providing the Philippines,” he said. “We would like to experience more of this training so we would be better prepared.”
The crisis management seminar is a civilian equivalent to the cross-training done by the US Armed Forces with Filipino counterparts.
Philippine police attaché Chief Supt. Armando Ramolete said the crisis management seminar is part of the foreign assistance initiative undertaken by the State Department’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance (ATA).
Josue Oreas, head of the Bureau of Immigration’s Anti-Terrorism Unit, stressed the need for a more concerted effort to fight off threats and responding to crisis. He cited the arrest of 357 “tourists” from China and Taiwan in Cainta, Rizal allegedly involved in credit card fraud.
“We look at certain patterns, their age, declared purpose in the country and monitor if they are overstaying. If they enter the country as a group and do not leave as a group, that is usually a red flag,” Oreas told ABS-CBN News.
He claimed to have provided the information which led to the police dragnet against the supposed tourists from China and Taiwan.
As the Aquino administration promotes tourism to boost the local economy, the presence of so many foreigners in the country has also become a source of concern for agencies like the PNP and Immigration Bureau.
Oreas underlined the need to work more closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs, which issues the visas for people visiting the Philippines.
The other participants were: Manuel R. Barcena, Director, Integrated Police Operations–Western Mindanao; Chief Supt. Charles T. Calima, Director, Intelligence Group; Chief Supt. Napoleon R. Estilles, Regional Director 9; Chief Supt. Benjamin B. Magalong, Regional Director Cordillera; Chief Supt. Ricardo C. Marquez, Deputy Director, Directorate for Operations; Chief Supt. Alex Paul I. Monteagudo, Regional Director 12;
Chief Supt. Jose Erwin T. Villacorte, Deputy Director, Personnel and Records Management; Chief Supt. Juanito B. Vaño Jr., Deputy Director, NCR Police Office; Senior Supt. Jonathan Ferdinand G. Miano, Office of the Directorate for Comptrollership; Senior Supt. Cesar Hawthorne R. Binag, Office of the Chief, PNP; Senior Supt. Marcelo C. Morales, Office of the Anti-Kidnapping Group; Atty. Angelito Magno, National Bureau of Immigration; and Atty. Rodney Velicario, University of the Philippines.