'Manila hostage crisis lessons helped in Agusan case'

By Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 06 2011 03:54 PM | Updated as of Apr 07 2011 09:15 AM

MANILA - Justice Secretary Leila de Lima saw positive steps taken by the local crisis management committee (CMC) in the resolution of the Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur hostage drama due to lessons learned from the botched 11-hour August 23, 2010 Manila hostage-taking incident that resulted in a bloodbath.

All 16 hostages in the Agusan hostage crisis were released unharmed, while the August 2010 crisis left 8 Hong Kong tourists and hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza dead.

Now that it can be told with the crisis over, the justice chief, in an ambush interview with reporters, said national officials including the president himself, were closely monitoring as the drama unfolded.

"Even if the local crisis management committee ang nakatutok doon because that is what the manual, that is what the rules and regulations provide, national authorities were closely monitoring that incident from day 1. That even includes the president. That includes me, that includes [Interior and Local Government] Secretary Jesse Robredo," de Lima said.

Though the official recommendations of the Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC) which probed the August 2010 hostage-crisis have not been formally adopted, de Lima said she saw improvements in the handling of the Agusan incident.

"This one is a local crisis pero ang talagang ideal arrangement is that even if it is the local CMC which directly handles or which is on top of local crisis situations such as this, yung national authorities - yung nga member naman ng national crisis committee - ay naka-standby o naka-alalay sa background to make sure na nai-implement yung mga nagiging desisyon ng local CMC and that is exactly what happened in this Agusan hostage crisis," she said.

Malacañan meeting

De Lima confirmed information obtained by ABS-CBN News that a meeting regarding the Agusan hostage-taking incident took place in Malacañan last Monday where President Aquino was briefed on the Agusan hostage crisis.

The ABS-CBN News source said de Lima, Defense chief Voltaire Gazmin, Presidential Legal Counsel Eduardo de Mesa, Presidential Management Staff Julia Abad, Armed Forces Chief-of-Staff Gen. Eduardo Oban, Deputy Chief-of-Staff for Operations (J3) Maj. Gen. Emmanuel Bautista and major military service commanders were present in a meeting.

"Yes, there was a meeting. And then after the meeting I had to direct local prosecutors to also help out, pina-review ko yung cases involving the Ondo Perez gang... there are issues of alleged injustice kasi may kalaban silang katribu rin, part of their tribe, the Manobo tribe," de Lima said.

Ondo Perez group cases

Ondo Perez is a Manobo tribal leader arrested and held since 2009 for holding hostage 75 people in the same municipality in connection with a land dispute with another tribal group. He is also awaiting trial for murder.

The latest hostage drama was perpetrated by gunmen, some of them Perez's relatives, who demanded his immediate release. The group seized 15 teachers and children on Saturday,

De Lima said an initial study by state prosecutors on cases involving the Ondo Perez group showed there may be cases which may be provisionally dismissed.

"Mayroon nga doon mga kaso... na pwede na ma-provisionally dismiss kasi walang witnesses. Mayroon ding kaso o mga kaso na hindi pwede i-dismiss so itutuloy pa rin yung mga kaso na yan," she said.

Partial media blackout a welcome development

Media blackout, crime does not pay

The justice chief was also pleased with the media blackout put in place in the Agusan crisis.

Information released to the media was carefully filtered while the hostage drama was in progress to prevent the situation from getting worse following an observation by the Philippine National Police’s CARAGA regional office that the hostage-takers were monitoring media reports.

"Nagkakaroon naman ng mga updates pero yung mga details o mga particulars ng mga nagiging action nung CMC, until the whole thing or the whole episode was finished, hindi dinisclose.  That is the ideal setup. There are things in an ongoing crisis na dapat wala muna ang media dyan, hindi muna yan alam ng publiko.

The Justice Department maintained those responsible for the latest Agusan hostage crisis should be held accountable.

"Mananagot din sila because they violated the law so I think tutugisin sila," she said.