MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine National Police’s (PNP) Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team is now on the receiving end of satirical jokes after the botched rescue of hostages in Manila on Monday.
Manila’s version of the SWAT elite police unit prompted some users of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to come up with new meanings for the acronym: "Sana Wag Akong Tamaan” (I don't want to get hit), "Sorry Wala Akong Training" (Sorry, I am not trained), "Sugod-Wait-Atras-Tago,” (Charge-Wait-Retreat-Hide), and "Sledgehammer Whacking Assault Team.”
Other alternative meanings include “Sir Wait And Take a break,” “Super Walang Alam Tactics” (Super clueless on tactics), and “Sh** Wait Atras Tayo” (Sh** wait. Let's retreat).
During practice runs held just before the real thing Monday night, three different SWAT teams needed less than two minutes to gain control of a “hijacked” bus and neutralize a “hostage-taker.”
However, a different scenario unfolded hours later – with the entire world watching.
For more than an hour, Manila Police District (MPD) SWAT teams armed with a sledgehammer struggled to break into the hijacked bus.
Efforts to open the bus’ door failed, as a chain tied to it broke loose.
Members of the commando unit lobbed tear gas into the bus, but they were not able to immediately board it as they did not have any gas masks.
They also had a hard time shooting at hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza because they could not see who they were aiming at.
A sniper’s bullet ended the siege, after Mendoza was forced to move toward the front of the bus where the sniper got a better view.
The PNP leadership and Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) has admitted “lapses” in the handling the 11-hour hostage crisis that left 9 people dead, including the hostage-taker.
DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo said the incident showed the shortcomings of the national police in responding to hostage situations.
Foreign experts also cited poor negotiations with the hijacker, inadequate police equipment, allowing the media to roam around the hostage site, and bad crowd control.
Some Facebook users believe that another PNP unit, the Special Action Force, should have been called upon as its members are supposedly better trained and equipped to handle such crisis.
Others said the police could also have used the elite anti-hijacking unit of the Philippine Aviation Security Group, whose members are trained by the Special Air Service – an elite British military regiment that has served as model for the special forces of other countries all over the world.
“It may be a tourist bus but the interior can easily be like that of a small jetliner,” a Facebook user said.
MPD SWAT officials and members refused to be interviewed on television Wednesday, citing an ongoing investigation into the hostage incident.
However, some admitted off-camera that they had difficulty breaking the bus’ windows, which are made of shatter-proof fiberglass.
Some of the SWAT members added that they did not expect the hostage-taker, a former bemedalled police officer, to trade gunshots with them.
They added that their morale has plunged following the ill-fated rescue attempt.
MPD head Chief Superintendent Rodolfo Magtibay, who was the ground commander of police forces during hostage-taking incident, was relieved from his post Wednesday.
He joined a list of four MPD SWAT officers sacked from their posts earlier in the day.
SWAT commander Chief Insp. Santiago Pascual and team leaders SPO4 Reynaldo Antonio, SPO3 Alfonso Gameng, and SPO2 Bernardo Espinosa were suspended to prevent them from “exerting undue influence” on the investigation, according to PNP spokesman Senior Supt. Agrimero Cruz. – with a report from Ron Gagalac, ABS-CBN News