MANILA, Philippines - If the Manila hostage tragedy caught the attention of foreign security analysts on the need to improve police training and equipment, a former director of the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) noticed other key lapses such as failure to establish an isolation line and the absence of a designated officer to deal with media.
Antipolo Rep. Romeo Acop told ANC’s “Headstart” on Thursday that the police operations team broke some procedural rules, which were still in place when he was PNP-CIDG head.
He also agreed with most of the points raised by security analyst Charles Shoebridge in an article published by BBC. (Click here for article.)
He disagreed, however, that the Manila Police District’s (MPD) Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) personnel lacked "determination."
Acop said SWAT officials had a hard time dealing with hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza because of lack of necessary equipment.
"I do not agree with that (determination). Kung titignan mo yung pangyayari, ang dala na lang nila yung tapang nila, eh. You must remember that the hostage-taker is armed and some of the SWAT members have no bullet-proof vests," he added.
Acop listed down the procedural lapses committed by police during the hostage rescue fiasco:
1. Failure to establish isolation line
Acop said one of the MPD’s procedural lapses was its failure to establish an "isolation line" to ensure that innocent bystanders are not hurt. "It is standard operating procedure that the scene of the incident must be isolated especially in hostage-taking incidents," he said.
The line, he explained, can be determined by identifying the hostage-taker's gun. Last Monday, the hostage-taker was reported to be carrying an M-16 Armalite rifle and a .45 caliber handgun. The maximum effective range of M-16 is 350 meters.
"It is very crucial, very critical that a police line should be established, na hindi mahu-hurt yung mga tao. The scene of the incident should be isolated, taking into consideration the maximum fire range. Kung 'yung distance ng mga tao ay less than 350 meters, dangerous pa rin 'yun kasi yung max effective range andun sa range na yun," he added.
2. Slow in addressing hostage-taker’s demands
Acop said the ground commander handling hostage situations should act and think quickly, particularly with the demands being made.
"Yung demands (ng hostage-taker), dapat i-examine ng ground commander and ng crisis management team kung maibibigay, kasi iyun ang foremost consideration natin," he said.
The crisis management team, usually headed by the local government chief, can also coordinate with police in granting demands.
3. Failure to tap Special Action Force
Acop said it was also a judgment call of the ground commander, Chief Superintendent Rodolfo Magtibay, whether to deploy the Special Action Force (SAF).
Director Leocadio Santiago Jr., National Capital Region Police Office chief, could have also made a decision to use SAF troops to free the hostages.
"Maybe in their assessment, the SWAT team is capable of handling the situation," he said.
Acop said resolving hostage-taking incidents usually takes time as the police’s primary aim is to free the victims.
He added that an armed assault can only be launched after negotiations bog down.
4. Poor negotiating team and skills
Acop said Mendoza’s relatives should not have been on the scene unless the hostage-taker demanded to see them.
In the August 23 hostage crisis, police brought Mendoza's family in the area and even allowed the hostage-taker’s brother, Gregorio Mendoza, to help in the negotiations.
When the brother was taken into police custody, it caused a commotion that Mendoza saw on television.
It reportedly caused him to run amok leading to the tragedy.
“Yung negotiator ang kanyang number one trait is objectivity. How can a relative be objective? Hindi na dapat dinala yan, lalo na sa ating Filipino, yung relationship or family ties ay very close. Baka akala ni negotiator ma-co-convince pero according to the book, no," Acop said.
Acop said one of the main protocols implemented in a hostage-taking incident is creation of an objective negotiating team that directly reports to the ground commander.
The negotiator needs to make sure that the hostage-taker is not agitated and look for opportunities to disarm him.
Shoebridge pointed out that MPD lost numerous opportunities to disarm Mendoza, but Acop said a move to subdue a hostage-taker needs a judgment call from the negotiator.
Acop added that an assault against the hostage-taker should not be made during negotiations.
He said a ground commander must order an assault when the degree of success for the assault team is very high, when negotiations bog down, or when the hostage-taker has harmed the hostages.
5. No designated officer to rein in media
Acop said the ground commander must also decide on a need to require media to stop airing live footage of the scene.
"Well, if the ground commander approved the taking of the footage of the incident, why not? That’s why it is very necessary that a ground commander is there so he could decide," he said.
He added that the police should have designated a police spokesman to address media-related issues during the crisis.
"I cannot blame media simply because wala ang opisyal na magko-control," he said.
6. Lack of actual experience
Shoebridge said in his BBC article that the MPD was obviously not trained for such rescue operations.
Acop, however, said what the MPD lacked was actual experience. He explained that SWAT members trained using passenger buses, which is different from tourist buses.
"Yung training ng SWAT, ang ginagamit na props, yung local buses. Kapag minaso, basag agad ang salamin. 'Yung windows ng (tourist) bus, sa tingin ko not made of glass but made of fiberglass kaya hindi nabasag agad. They were surprised kasi hindi yun ang nagagawa nila sa training," he said.
Acop said the police may have failed to properly assess the hostage-taking incident, which could explain why the they failed to bring gas masks and ladders.
The gap in training and actual experience should be bridged by the senior commanders, who are being sent to overseas training, he said.
He added that senior police officers should create a "doctrine" that could guide rescue operations.
"Unfortunately, it was not included in their operational procedures. Ang gumawa dapat nyan, yung nag-training natin na officials sa (United States) on subjects such as hostage-taking. When I last checked, around March 2010, wala nun," he said.