Aquino gov't scored for poor crisis management

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 24 2010 11:43 PM | Updated as of Aug 25 2010 08:49 AM

MANILA, Philippines - At least 2 lawmakers have blamed the government for its mishandling of the Manila hostage crisis which killed 8 Hong Kong tourists.

House Deputy Speaker Jesus Crispin Remulla  (7th District, Cavite) condemned as a "lack of crisis management instincts" the government's handling of the crisis situation.

Remulla singled out how the government failed to manage media coverage of the incident as an example.

Remulla threw the Poynter's Institute rule book on crisis coverages to the government, which, he said, should have been able to talk to the media on how to cover the crisis in accordance with the rule book.

"This isn't a blame game. The problem is government didn't do that. Government should be aware of this matter so they can also talk to the media about it. Maybe they were watching too much TV and they didn't realize that if they could see it on TV, the guman could see it on TV."

House probe sought

Bacolod City Rep. Anthony Golez, for his part, joined other lawmakers in calling for a House inquiry into the incident, noting that there also seemed to be a lack of incident management on the part of government.

Golez also noted squabbles in the Philippine National Police (PNP) could have led to the failed disaster management.

"Were the operations designed to fail? We've been hearing rumored squabbles in the PNP. There must be deeper reason for failure. These need to be unearthed, it needs to be explained to the satisfaction of everybody. This is why I'd support an investigation. We can come up with a law that will protect the image of the PNP. Nakikita natin hanggang porma lang. Pag walang kalaban magaling. Pag meron, di magaling."

Golez was concurrent director of the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) when he was then President Arroyo's spokesperson. It was during the Arroyo administration that the 2007 Manila hostage taking happened that led to the successful rescue of all hostages.

"I more or less know what incident works. We coordinate with police everytime there are crises. Some people are blaming media for this because it was shown. I don't blame the media. I should blame the incident commander for not controlling the situation. Can you imagine the hostage-taker monitored all movements around him and the good guys were not able to monitor the hostage-taker? The deeper reason must be known to everybody. It must be known to us. Under our incident command system, there should an officer dealing with media. Everybody deals with him," he said.

Golez also cited how the Aquino government failed to manage the crisis internationally.

"11 a.m. CNN called me up and, Sarita, she said if CNN can interview me. I said I'm not with OCD [Office of Civil Defense] anymore. She said nobody's answering, nobody wants to face CNN. We're trying to call up (PNP Chief Jesus) Verzosa, no one would like to face the camera of CNN. At 11 a.m., people knew we're already at the front lines of international media. That's cause for higher alarm, for higher echelons of the PNP that someone should be...of higher rank should step in," he said.

Media blackout bill

For his part, Cebu Rep. Gabriel Luis Quisumbing is planning to file a bill that will impose a media blackout on police and military positions, movements and actions during crisis situations. He cited the extensive live coverage of the Manila hostage crisis as a reason.

Quisumbing, in a statement, said: "This is not intended to curtail press freedom. The primary intention is to protect the lives of the men and women in uniform and civilians in jeopardy. Care should be taken to avoid disclosure of vital information to the perpetrators until the crisis situation is resolved. In any case, our bill guarantees that once the crisis is settled, media will have full access to information about the police or military operations and coverage shall not be restricted."

Quisumbing joined the chorus of congressmen at the Lower House condemning the incident.

Las Piñas Rep. Mark Villar filed House Resolution 279, which directs the appropriate committees to conduct an inquiry in aid of legislation on the hostage taking incident involving former police officer Rolando Mendoza, for the purpose of reviewing the standard operating procedure (SOP) during hostage-taking incidents and reassessing its actual implementation during such times.

In his resolution, Villar cited the frequent failure and lapses of authorities in handling previous similar hostage situations, with the Manila incident as the latest. He also hopes to stave off misconceptions that the review of SOP's does not result into anything concrete.

Bagong Henerasyon Rep. Bernadette Herrera-Dy said the PNP's ineptness only absorbed what, she said, was half the world's rage against the incident. She said many rules in the negotiation book were ignored. She, too, called for a House probe into the incident.

Address PNP, AFP grievances

Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles said the country must apologize to the Chinese government and the families of the bereaved.

"First, we have to review the way complaints and cases filed against police officers and AFP soldiers are processed and decided. These cases must be speedily decided and given due course with adequate remedies available to the respondents. They must be able to feel that justice is working. Second, we have to study again the procedure by which police and SWAT teams handle hostage situations. There were lapses on judgment made during the hostage crisis that led to the death of several hostages. The fact that these hostages were Chinese nationals doesn't help. Now, it will be known in the international community how we bungled the situation. An apology must be issued immediately to the Chinese government, and assistance given to the victims and their families. A thorough investigation must be made on who made these lapses in judgment, and how it can be avoided in the future."

San Juan City Rep. Jose Victor "JV" Ejercito denounced the bloody ending of the hostage crisis at the Quirino Grandstand, saying that the entire mismanagement of the situation placed the entire Philippines in the dark.

"I am truly saddened by the demise of the Hong Kong tourists. The bloodbath should have been avoided if the negotiation done by the Manila Police District with the hostage-taker went smoothly,"  Ejercito said.